A reflection for the fifth Sunday of Easter

Reading: John 15: 1-8

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Reflection

“I am the true vine”. It is appropriate that our service this week comes from St. James’ Church, Athboy, because those words are inscribed around the East window, in the chancel.

The vine and the vineyard are familiar images employed throughout the Old Testament, used to describe the relationship between God and his people. In Psalm 80, we hear Israel described as a vine which God brought out of Egypt and planted and nurtured, so that it grew and filled the land. However, in the following verses, we learn that all is not well, and the psalmist asks God why he has broken down the wall of his vineyard so that those who pass by pluck off its grapes – a description of a people and land in turmoil.

When Herod the Great rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, a contemporary source says that an enormous golden vine was placed at the entrance to the sanctuary. Its clusters of ornamental grapes were said to be as tall as a man and people donated gold for its leaves and fruit. That monument was intended to symbolise Israel as the vine planted by God on Mount Zion, but to some it said more about the wealth of the Judean ruling class. We know what Jesus thought of the temple and its elite leadership, so perhaps that is why he emphasised that he is the true vine.

This discourse by Our Lord speaks to us about our relationship with God, our dependence on Christ, and the life of faith. While Jesus described himself as the vine, he described his Father as the vine grower, or gardener who prunes the vine, removing the deadwood and encouraging healthy growth that will bear fruit.

Pruning a vine, I am told, is a painstaking task in order to achieve the correct results. I spent a couple of hours on a cold windy day in February pruning my roses. It takes time, to assess each bush, cut away that which is diseased or dead, and to prune in such a way that allows the light in so that it will produce a good display of blooms. So here, we have a wonderful image of how God takes time to consider each one of us, knowing what is good for us, and shapes our lives to bring out the best in us.

It is through Jesus, the true vine that we are brought into relationship with God. We are dependent upon him as our source of grace and strength, if we are to grow and develop into the people he intends us to become. He said: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing”. Abide in me. This implies a close intimate relationship between Christ and his followers.

We are connected to Christ just as the branches are connected to the vine. That relationship is nurtured through spending time in his presence. I am sure we have all missed being able to worship together in church as a community during these past months and we look forward to being able to meet again weekly. Public worship is important, but it is not our only source of contact. Jesus mentioned the need for prayer – “ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you”. There is a condition to that promise which precedes it: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you”. Those who live in close relationship to Christ will see the results in answered prayer.

The vine is grown for one purpose, and that is to produce good quality grapes. The life of faith, which Our Lord described, is intended to bear fruit by living out our faith in love and service of others. Our first reading from Acts described Philip, a Christian disciple who encountered an important official of the Ethiopian royal court. He was in the right place at the right time to give account of his faith, resulting in an instant response and an impromptu baptism. We never know the good we can do, with a timely word or deed, when we reach out in help to someone in need.

May we know what it is to abide in Christ, and to bear fruit as his disciples. Amen.

Collect

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
Grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ,
You are the true vine, the source of all life and goodness.
We know that we abide in you and that you are in us,
by the Spirit you have given us.
As we freely receive your love,
help us to share that love with others.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for your church,
That it may be a caring, loving and accepting community,
reaching out to the needy, the outcasts and rejected.
May your church bear fruit, so that your love be revealed.
We pray for this diocese, for Pat our bishop, and for our parish.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for the nations of the world and their leaders.
Guide all who care for the world’s poor, refugees,
and those who are oppressed or denied freedom.
We pray for justice and peace for the people of Myanmar.
We pray for the people of India, their leaders and health service
as they struggle to cope with the huge rise in coronavirus cases.
Bring comfort and healing to the sick and suffering.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for our homes, families and loved ones.
Protect all who are struggling with stress or anxiety.
Give wisdom and understanding to parents as they
care for their children.
Be with all who are housebound and those who live alone.
Bless our homes with your presence.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are ill,
those in hospital recovering from surgery,
those undergoing treatment and those with
long-term illness or disability.
Grant them your healing, strength and peace.
We pray for the successful delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination
and for all who care for others in our health service.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are sorrowful and grieving,
remembering the Watson family as they mourn
the loss of Stephen. We pray for his mother Laura,
brother Matthew and extended family,
that you will comfort them in their loss and sorrow.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

Lord you abide with us through life and in death.
In your love you have given us eternal life.
We remember with thanksgiving, our loved ones departed.
Bring us with them to the joy of your love and presence.
We ask this in your name,
Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.

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