Easter V, 2 May 2021
Today, as we listen to the Gospel reading from St. John chapter 15 we are challenged by another of the great “I am” sayings of Jesus our Saviour. You will remember that last Sunday we concentrated on Jesus as our Good Shepherd and, being a country lad by origin, that vision of Jesus is very precious to me. Today we find Jesus describing Himself, to His disciples as the true vine. He says, `I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.` Chapter 15 is part of Our Lord`s Farewell discourse with and to the Apostles at the Last Supper, after Judas had left to go and prepare the way to betray his Lord. The Farewell Discourse is to prepare the disciples for what is to happen to the Lord and for their work and mission after the Lord`s Resurrection and Ascension.
The imagery of the vine is important through both the Old and the New Testaments of Holy Scripture for we find many references among which are these referring to the People of Israel as a vine:
1. Ps. 80 verses 8 and 9: “You brought a vine out of Egypt, to plant it you drove out nations; you cleared a space for it, it took root and filled the whole country>”
2. Jeremiah 2: 21: “Yet I had planted you, a red vine of completely sound stock. How is it you have turned into seedlings of a vine that is alien to me ?
3. Hosea 10: 1-2: “Israel was a luxuriant vine yielding plenty of fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; the richer his land became the richer he made the sacred pillars. Theirs is a divided heart; now they will have to pay for it.
These three illustrations tell of the flourishing of Israel and its apostasy and so Jesus, the Messiah, has come to found the New Israel of God.
You may remember Father Morris, recently, explaining about sacred numbers in Holy Scripture and how that the number seven signifies fullness, perfection and completeness. It is also the number of spiritual perfection and of the Holy Spirit (as in the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spiriit given and received at Confirmation). There are seven “I am” sayings of which “I am the true vine…” is the seventh thus completing Our Lord`s sayings on the very night that He was to be betrayed. Jesus expands His teaching in this passage and, a few sentences on, says these words: “I AM the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15, 5)
Modern translations of St. John`s Gospel, as this morning, use to the term “remain” whereas others use the term “abide” which is, in a sense, much stronger since it is a combination of “remain”, “stay” and “continue” thus enveloping a permanent and eternal element to the relationship.
There is nothing limp or half-hearted in these eight verses from chapter 15 of John`s Gospel for being bound, as though branches, to Jesus who is the true vine in whom we become the New Israel of God, we submit to God the Father who is both the owner of the vineyard and the vinedresser! Jesus is very frank to his hearers, and my implication to us too, who seek to follow Him, that “Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are pruned already, by means of the word I have spoken to you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”
I don`t know about each of you but I am constantly aware of my falling short of this calling of discipleship and how it is that we should not dare to pass judgment on anyone else but yet, wee judge ourselves, every time we are disobedient to our Lord`s teaching: “Anyone who does not abide in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and they are burnt.” If that was the end of the passage we would be without hope. Our Lord, not only give us His Life for us and is raised again, and goes to prepare a lace for us, he give us grace, by His Holy Spirit and encouragement through his words: “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Let us take Our Lord Jesus at his word and not be afraid to ask - for it is only then that we shall be able to bear fruit – indeed much fruit.
I commend to you a book entitled “ABIDING” by Professor Ben Quash which was the then Archbishop of Canterbury`s Lent Book for 2013.