through the raising of your Son to new life,
you broke the power of death.
Do not forsake those who call on your name;
do not be far from those we name today,
and those whose groanings are known only to you.
Loving God of all generations,
hear the cries of our world;
in Jesus' name…
Prayer from The Billabong, a lectionary worship resource by Jeff Shrowder, Uniting Church in Australia
1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide 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. 5I 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. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
The Gospel According to John: Abiding and Obeying
Christ is risen, Alleluia! This Fifth Sunday of Easter is the 29th day of Easter; Easter is 50 days,
The Revised Common Lectionary that provides our weekly scripture readings has a year each for the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Every year the lectionary intersperses sections of John, particularly during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. With Mark being shorter than Matthew or Luke, we get more John during Mark's [current] year B than during Matthew's year A, or Luke's year C.
This is very shorthand, and also broadly accurate.
The gospel account we have from the community gathered around the beloved disciple John conveys a different worldview from the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Mark, Luke, and Matthew essentially view Jesus' life and ministry in a similar way (syn=together, as in synthesis, synod, synagogue, synopsis, synergistic; synchronize; optic= vision, as in optician, optimism, optimal, optometrist). Despite each of them having some unique content and a particular perspective, synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke all bring us law and gospel—God's holy demands and God's merciful, loving grace. We roughly can place the synoptics in the Torah/Pentateuch and Prophets traditions of the Old Testament.
John is very much about the here and now of the Reign of Heaven on Earth. With a focus on God's ongoing presence and on the commandments, especially encapsulated in the charge to love, John's community offers ways to live faithfully and fruitfully with speech and action, rather than the articulation of law and gospel we find in the synoptics. John's gospel emphasizes abiding and obeying; it has been called the gospel of abiding presence. To continue the OT parallel, we can locate the Gospel according to John in the tradition of the Wisdom literature.
7 I Am Sayings + I Am the Vine
Today we hear the seventh and last of Jesus' I Am declarations where Jesus places himself within YHWH/God's Old Testament identity I Am—pure being. unmediated presence. We've discussed how each gospel writer and others who wrote down the words of scripture drew upon dynamic oral traditions and existing written documents or sources. Scholars clearly identify two sources used by John's community: Signs and I Am (and suggest there may have been a third). Today's I Am the Vine – You are the Branches passage comes from Jesus' farewell discourse on Maundy Thursday, after he washed the disciples' feet, before his death and resurrection. However, we are reading it during the Great Fifty Days of Easter, after we've again experienced Jesus death and resurrection.
Jesus' seven I Am statements:
• "I am the bread of life." John 6:35, 41, 48, 51
• "I am the light of the world." John 8:12
• "I am the door of the sheep." John 10:7,9
• "I am the good shepherd." John 10:11, 14
• "I am the resurrection and the life." John 11:25
• "I am the way, the truth, and the life." John 14:6
• "I am the true vine." John 15:1, 5
Where we Live: Vine and Branches
Because Jesus lived in an agricultural, somewhat agrarian setting, he used a lot of farm-related imagery. Today? Grape vines! Most Californians get the importance of soil, sunshine, shade, and pruning in vineyards / grapes / harvest. We understand how critical time, temperature, cask, and added ingredients are to wine production. Methods of wine transport and storage, too! In addition, grape vines are one of the seven agricultural gifts of the promised land. We find the people of God as branches of the vine in Old Testament scriptures; Jesus' listeners would have sat up and noticed because of agricultural and historical references.
In this trinitarian passage, Jesus brings us God the Father as vine planter and grower, Jesus the Son as the vine itself, the people of God in the power of the Holy Spirit as branches of the vine; Jesus charges us to abide in him in order to bear fruit. How do we abide as branches in Jesus the Vine? By obeying, especially by loving God, neighbor, and self. Although we primarily abide in Jesus the vine, we remain interconnected with all the other branches. It's interesting that at this time Jesus doesn't describe any other aspects of fruit-bearing.
Do we always abide in Jesus, or do we sometimes settle deeply into family, societal, cultural, and church traditions, practices, customs, and habits? That can be a tough discernment, because as people of history and people with histories that the God of history has shepherded (remember last week's Psalm 23?) us through, we need to stay connected with our own individual pasts, with the identity-forming histories and practices of communities and groups we belong to. We need to contextualize the gospel so newcomers will relate Jesus to their own geography and history.
But what do we make most important? For starters, Jesus commanded us to take, bless, break, and give bread, bless and share the cup of the fruit of the vine(!), and to baptize. But do we insist on a particular type of bread, brand of wine or grape juice? Does the baptismal venue need to be the same every time? Sprinkling, pouring, or immersion?
For other instances, can the format for recording and distributing minutes from a meeting vary? What about flower varieties at Easter? Some churches no longer use lilies because of human allergies and because toxicity to pets can be a major problem if people take their lilies home with them. Does Strawberry Festival always need to be on the Second Sunday in June? Do we even need an annual Strawberry Festival? All churches and organizations worldwide will trial-and-error experiment as they rebuild and partly reinvent themselves post-COVID. As we interpret scripture for our new context, our direct or anecdotal knowledge of grape-growing and wine-making gives excellent counsel regarding Jesus' reminder on this Fifth Sunday of Easter to stay connected to him and to each other.