13 April 2017

The Fruit of the Vine

John 15:1-17

Maundy Thursday
Sacrament of the Lord's Supper

“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). Abide.  It’s one of John’s favorite words in this Gospel.  Abide.  Remain. Stay. Stay close.  Sixteen of the twenty-one chapters in John include this word; it occurs over forty times.  Intimacy, connectedness, relatedness, closeness, these themes run throughout John’s Gospel. For John, these are tangible manifestations of the Risen Christ among us and within us; they are signs of resurrection life.  These words describe life in community centered on the Risen Christ, Christ the center. John wrote these words to his community who struggled with what it means to be followers of Jesus, and, through the Holy Spirit who spans space-time, they are directed to us today, to the church.

To be part of the church of Jesus Christ means we are all connected, whether we like it or not.  We are in this together.  And we need each other in order to be faithful to Christ.  We can’t do it on our own.  We can’t “do” church or “be” church on our own.  We can’t follow Christ on our own.  We can’t be faithful on our own.  We need each other. We can’t be faithful disciples on our own.  The Latin American liberation theologians often talk about convivencia when describing the Christian life.  Convivencia means, literally, “living-with.”[1]  Convivence is what sustains us individually and together, as a community. We are living with one another and living with the Lord.

That’s why we have Jesus, here in John’s Gospel, in a section of the Gospel known as the Farewell Discourse, providing us with what we need to be faithful to Christ post-resurrection.  Jesus turns to an image that was familiar to his listeners.  He uses an organic symbol, the language of vines and branches in order to talk about friendship and love.

It’s a remarkably dynamic symbol, the vine and branches.  Jesus invites us to abide in him, as branch to vine. That’s because, Jesus tells us, he also wants to abide in us.  “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” He is the life force, the love that energizes the growth and brings about the yield, the fruit.  Even the relationship, itself, is fructifying.

Reflecting on this text took me back to Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago. In the Rioja region the Camino cuts around and sometime straight through acres upon acres of vineyards.  I was walking in late-September, outside Logrono, near the time of harvest.  The green, leafy branches were full of deep, red grapes, the branches led to old, knotty vines that thickened at the base where they sunk down deep into the soil.  It was a Sunday, but I didn’t go to worship that morning—at least, not in a church—I did worship and pray and sang my way along the way, out there among the vines and branches.  “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  I plucked off several grapes to eat; they were juicy and sweet.  I could feel the vitality of life all around me.  The vine is the source of vitality and life. That’s what Jesus wants us to know, that he is the source of vitality and life. As I walked through the vineyards I imagined all the wine these fields would eventually yield, the fruit of the vine to be poured out around the world.  I felt as if I was swimming in wine.  It was flowing all around me, through me.

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from him there is no life.  Apart from him there’s no yield.  No fruit.  And Jesus wants us to bear fruit. That’s why you’ve been chosen to sit at this table.  That’s why we are here.  We are his friends (Jn. 15:14).  As his friends, he says, “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…” (Jn. 15:16). “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (Jn. 15:8).

What is that fruit?  Love.  Love is the fruit of faith—love in relationship, friendship, community.  Jaime Clark-Soles writes, “If we are not a community marked by friendship and love, then we should close up shop.  If we are not a community with friendship and love as our key goals and markers, then we may be many things, some even useful and worthwhile, but we are not a Christian community.”[2] 

Love is the vine.  Love is also the force—the vinculum, meaning the connector, the binding agent—that links vine, branch, and fruit.  “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12).  Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34).

Let us share in this meal, given to us in love.  

Let us share this meal in order to deepen our connection with one another. 

Let us remember the one who showed us many years ago what love looks likelove is cruciform.  It takes the shape of a cross. 


Let us abide in him, the one who lives today in bread and wine, 
and in us. 


Photos:  K. E. Kovacs, along the Camino de Santiago de Comopostela, September 2016.
[1] Cited in David Congdon, The God Who Saves: A Dogmatic Sketch (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), 42.
[2] Jaime Clark-Soles, Reading John for Dear Life: A Spiritual Walk with the Fourth Gospel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 101.