Christ the True Vine

Christ the True Vine

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2024

Christ the True Vine

Homily for April 28, 2024
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8:26-40
John 15:1-8

This morning, I’m going to preach on the Gospel lesson from John chapter 15 in which Jesus makes the last of his seven so-called“I am” statements in St. John’s Gospel, in this morning’s statement Jesus saying, “I am the true vine.”  But given that many of us participated in helping Jess and Amelia prepare for Baptism at the Easter Vigil, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to first point out in this morning’s lesson from Acts chapter 8the Bible’s most famous example of catechesis; that is, of instructing someone in the faith in preparation for Baptism.

Notice how our catechesis with Jess and Amelia was not dissimilar to Philip’s with the Ethiopian eunuch:  just as the Spirit told Philip to “Go over to this chariot and join it,” so, too, did the Spirit tell us to “go over to Jess’s and Amelia’s ‘chariots’ and join them;”just as the eunuch invited Philip to get in and sit beside him, so did Jess and Amelia invite us to “get in” and sit beside them; just as Philip and the eunuch gathered around scripture, so did we gather with Jess and Amelia around scripture; just as Philip “proclaimed to[the eunuch] the good news about Jesus,” so did we to the best of our ability proclaim to Jess and Amelia the good news about Jesus; just as when Philip and the eunuch “were going along the road… and came to some water,” and just as “He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him,” so did we, as we “were going along the road,” when we “came to some water,” did we “command the chariot to stop,” and all of us, with Jess and Amelia, got out, “went down into the water,” and we baptized them.   Because our catechesis unfolded gradually over the course of weeks, and because we were perhaps too closely involved in the process to see it, we might think that what we did in helping Jess and Amelia prepare for Baptism was a matter of course and no “big deal.”  But this morning’s lesson reminds us that our catechesis and Jess’s and Amelia’s learning were led by the Holy Spirit.  Those who were involved in the catechesis process, maybe try to remember how the process felt.  Because what we felt in the process of helping Jess and Amelia prepare for Baptism is the feeling of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding.  The feelings may not always be profound or “amazing”  – indeed,sometimes following the Spirit involves much of what John in this morning’s Gospel calls “abiding,” which is more or less  “just showing up.”  But just as the eunuch’s Baptism led to joy –he “went on his way rejoicing,” Luke writes – so I trust did we help open the door for Jess and Amelia for a deeper relationship with him who brings true joy.  Further, just as the Spirit “snatched Philip away” so that he “found himself at Azotus… [where] he proclaimed the good news to all the towns,” so I trust is the Spirit “snatching us away,” leading us to new places and new opportunities – perhaps even more opportunities for catechesis – where we can sit in new “chariots” and beside others who might desire to follow Jesus.

Now, on to John chapter 15…. “I am the vine,you are the branches,” Jesus said. Knowing how much Jesus loves us, who wouldn’t want to be a “branch” on Jesus’ “vine?”  Who wouldn’t want to have that sense of meaning and purpose that being a faithful disciple brings to our lives?  (As Jesus said, “Apart from me,you can do nothing.”)  But with him,abiding in him, our lives will bear much fruit, Jesus said.   I want to take a closer look at what this abiding in Jesus, the vine, might look like in our lives.

[As I mentioned,] in this morning’s passage from John chapter 15 Jesus makes the seventh and final of his so-called “I am”statements.  Previously in John, Jesus has said:  “I am the bread of life”(6:35), and “I am the light of the world” (8:12), and “I am the good shepherd”(10:11-14), among others.  In these “I am” statements, Jesus echoes God’s words to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3 – “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14).  In each of these statements, Jesus reveals a different aspect of his identity:  “I am the bread of life” tells us that Jesus is the true manna whereby God feeds us from heaven (6:31-35).  “I am the light of the world” tells us that Jesus is the light that enables us to see and never to walk in darkness.  “I am the good shepherd” tells us that Jesus, like God the shepherd in Psalm 23[that Jesus] is the good shepherd whose voice we know, who calls us by name, and who leads us in and out to find pasture (10:1-11).  

By this morning’s words “I am the true vine,”John points out:  1) not only that Jesus is the one who roots us and who gives our lives purpose and meaning, 2) not only that God will sometimes “prune” us so that we bear more fruit, and 3) not only that a key element of discipleship is to “abide” –  to keep “showing up;” but also by the image of Jesus as the vine, John makes clear that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is an occasion of reconciliation and joy – abundant reconciliation and joy.  Let me explain…

In St. John’s Gospel “wine” and “vine” are key images.  When in today’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the true vine,” John connects today’s passage in chapter 15 both to the changing of water into wine at the beginning of John (in chapter 2) and also to the water and blood coming out from Jesus’ side at the crucifixion toward the end of John (in chapter 19).  You may recall that it was at a wedding that Jesus changed water into wine – “six stone water jars’” worth, John writes, “each holding twenty or thirty gallons” (2:6),or about one hundred and fifty gallons total(!).  A wedding then as now was an occasion for hope and joy and (as in the Song of Songs) was understood to be a metaphor for the relationship of God to God’s people. That Jesus chose his first “sign” to be the changing of water into wine at a wedding sets the tone in John of abundance and love, and of the hope of new life.  

Looking to the crucifixion toward the end of John’s Gospel, in a detail unique to John, in order to make sure Jesus was dead,“one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out” (19:34).  If near the opening of John’s Gospel, water when drawn had become wine, here toward the end of John’s Gospel, blood when drawn flows out separately from water.  The abundance of the miracle at Cana at the beginning of John’s Gospel, through Jesus the vine (in the middle of the Gospel), at the crucifixion toward the end of John’s Gospel has become an abundance of reconciliation.  Jesus draws all people to himself, John writes (12:32).

And lest by the crucifixion in chapter 19 we have forgotten the joy of the wedding in chapter 2, John in Jesus’ so-called“Farewell Discourse” before the crucifixion uses the word “joy” seven times(such as, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (15:11)).  In the Hebrew tradition, the number seven signifies “perfect” or “complete.”  By his use of “joy” seven times in the Farewell Discourse, John carries the joy of the opening chapters of John through to Jesus’ death and signals that Jesus’ death,his sacrifice whereby he draws all people to himself, is an occasion for perfect and complete joy.  Abundant reconciliation,says John, brings abundant joy.

Read in the context of the other “wine” and“vine” images in his Gospel, in today’s reading John offers a concrete way in which we can find meaning and purpose in our lives and share in the abundance of Jesus’ reconciliation and joy: “Abide in me as I abide in you,” Jesus said.   By abiding – by continuing to “show up” – we the “branches” abide in Jesus the “vine,” and our lives will bear much fruit.  And for John, for whom sacraments are important, one of the ways Jesus helps us “abide” is through the Eucharist,the sacrament of bread and wine, of Christ’s body and blood.  May God give us “branches” the grace to abide in Jesus the vine.  And may we continue faithful in receiving the Eucharist and discerning in it Jesus the true vine,whose body given for us and whose blood shed for us is the source of abundant reconciliation and joy.

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