There are seven “I am’s” claimed by Christ in the Gospel of John beginning with his assertion “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6 v 35) and ending with “I am the Vine” (John 15 v 1 to 8). You might note as Comerford does (www.patrickcomerford.com) the beautiful symmetry in bread, wine and all that Christ is, by way of his “I am’s” that is celebrated during the Eucharist.
There is much to be gleaned from this week’s Gospel reading, so let Christ’s words taken from the King James Version sit with you for a minute or two….
The Gospel reading. John 15 v 1 to 8.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
The King James Version. (www.biblegateway.com)
For those who minister/work for the Church, Christ’s words to “abide” or as is translated in other paraphrases of the Bible “rest” can seem, well, oxymoronic.
Christian ministry, I have found, is as busy and frenetic as any other walk of life…often without clear goals, a sense of “result” or closure to help an individual find balance personally and professionally. The work of the Kingdom is, *cough*, eternal and beyond our deepest wonderings and activity even we we feel deeply in touch.
Christians are called by Christ himself to abide and to therefore produce “fruit” through his indwelling. Speaking personally there have been seasons of my ministry when I have “withered on the vine” through activity, busyness, internal and external expectations, a lack of leadership oversight and (sadly) little room to be in Christ; to rest in Christ, to learn from Christ. Everyday practices that sustain…reading, prayer, worship, trusted friendship often are forgotten about until the candle is almost out.
The Oxford English Dictionary, describes the word “abide” as follows…
” abide by (no object) Accept or act in accordance with (a rule, decision, or recommendation” (Lexico.com)
and notes that other understandings of the word “abide” include…
“to live; dwell”. (Lexico.com)
Maybe one way of understanding Christ as the “true vine” is in individually and corporately accepting no matter how “well”/”unwell” our spiritual state, no matter how “withered” we are, it is Christ alone who brings fruit to bear. Even if that necessitates pruning and pairing back.
“Fedupness” (at times)
Brokenness are (to mix metaphors) our soil, our daily offering that the vine seeks to grow from.
Which, for this pilgrim, is maybe an understanding I should ease back into much, much more often.
Picture of Joseph and Christ Emmanuel from a specially commissioned work “The Holy Family”, by Juliet Venter (www.juliet.icons.co.uk)