I find it surprising that the Revised Common Lectionary’s cycle of Gospel texts in Easter season includes so little that is explicitly on the Resurrection. Last week there was, at least, the passing reference to Jesus taking his life up again after laying it down for his sheep.
This week? Nothing.
At least nothing explicit. Of course we can say that these words of Jesus are about life in light of the resurrection even if they appear in the gospel prior to Jesus’ death.
Oh well. I’ve long said that we Protestants have a very hard time focusing on Easter and the Resurrection.
But whatever the intent of the committee that compiled our lectionary, on Monday, most of the way through Easter, I find the text they chose gives me a helpful chance to refocus.
“I Am the Vine”
Jesus’ statement that he is the Vine, and we the branches, is familiar and comforting. For the preachers, especially, in this season it comes as a healthful reminder, a re-orientation to what is most essential to life. The image is, ultimately, repentance: a change of mind.
That is, when we have pressed hard through Lent and Holy Week, then collapsed a bit in the aftermath, we must look up and decide where to go.
We could continue on the path to burnout — just get back in the grind of service preparation, administration, visitation… just keep putting out the fires, dealing with whatever presents itself as most urgent.
Or, in this moment when the church’s life is a little calmer, we could consider what is most essential.
The Comfort of Abiding
What matters most is that I belong to God in Jesus Christ. I am united to Jesus in Baptism. In the Eucharist I am brought again and again to the fact that I am flesh of his flesh, that his lifeblood now flows within me.
And conceptually, nothing in the gospels conveys that vital connection better than the image of a vine with its branches. If I’m a branch of Christ the vine, I need to stay close, revel in my connection to him, so that his life flows all the more.
As Spring finally comes, I need that connection so that I bloom, and leaf out, and bear fruit. Lord how I want that sense of life flowing within me, filling me, bubbling over into the world.
The Discomfort of Pruning
But there is the more sober side of this text. Now that I’m all redirected to union with Christ, he tells me his Father is in the pruning business.
Nobody gets off easy here.
- Not bearing enough fruit? He cuts me off for kindling wood.
- Bearing fruit? Trimmed and pruned to bear more fruit.
The Vinedresser seems to cut off all the living parts and ties the remainder to supports, in a shape remarkably like a cross.
And yet, it is worth it.
God prunes, and Jesus’ life flows so that life is genuinely fruitful — and the unity is such that Jesus can promise real transformation.
So close, so full of his own genuine life, that when I ask in prayer God will grant it. How could God not grant the prayer that bubbles up from Jesus’ own lifeblood in me?
Well, let’s say I’m glad for the promise. There is a long way to go in the transformation.
- I wonder what in my life is already the fruit of abiding in the Vine, the overflow of Christ’s life within me?
- I wonder, as I draw close to Christ, what will next need pruning?
- I wonder what my life will feel like when I get pruned?
- I wonder what my life will feel like when new life flows more fully from the Vine?
- I wonder what fruit will look like?
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