This post – for Holy Week – is the next in the series based on my book, Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday.
It’s also Palm Sunday, when we think of the crowds laying down palm leaves. This year, such crowds seem very far away from our experience, as we are isolating at home. It’s a time when churches often fill with people, or process with branches. This year, we can’t do that. Instead, some are making palm crosses, or gathering greenery, to decorate their doors as a sign in participation in this time. It’s part of how we are all adapting to our situation, and finding ways of connecting, and marking times corporately. These things help.
Back to another growing thing, to the Vine.
I do not have a vine in my garden, but I have so many other plants that are just opening up to new life.
I have been planting seeds. My veggie beds, rebuilt a few years ago by my son and a friend, have not been productive in the past, but this year, there are signs of hope. There are a few little shoots coming up, and raspberry canes beginning to grow. I hope that we’ll have fresh salad leaves before too long.
I’ve also been thinking of the wisteria, and the corkscrew hazel, in the light of this reading which tells of vines and gardeners.
This year, the wisteria is covered in long purple buds, and will soon be heady with scented flowers. Last year, my gardener worked hard to cut back the unproductive growth, to focus the plant’s attention on the buds of this year’s flowering.
The corkscrew hazel requires less skilled intervention – I can manage to tell which stems are coming up straight, and need removing so the wild disarray of the corkscrew can grow freely.
These moments of intervention are part of what happens here – I also love the wild flowers – or weeds, I love to watch what happens, what grows of its own accord. It is a hospitable place. I love the rhythm of managed and wild. I love the crowds of birds, the insects, the butterflies and bees that seem to thrive here.
This year, many are noticing and valuing the gradual creep of spring, the morning birdsong, the clearing skies, in a way they haven’t before. These small joys are opening up to us, and we find they are deeply satisfying. If we have a windowbox, or a garden, or a view, the subtle changes we see bring us joy.
Our Father is a gardener, we read.
Once again, we will just touch on some of the themes this image opens up for us. There is always more. Here are a few things, offered for your reflection – and some suggestions of how we might live inside this song of the vineyard.
There is a way of seeing the overarching narrative of the Bible that looks like this: three gardens – the garden of Eden in Genesis, the garden tomb of the resurrection and the garden city of Revelation. If we hold this narrative in our minds, we see a story of flourishing, of hope, of new growth despite the winters we encounter. Gardens and their gardeners are a theme that runs through the whole Bible text. Gardens are both beautiful and necessary, a sign of a settled life, a sign of peace and security, a promise of plenty. And within the garden, the vine winds and trails its way through scripture, a sign of the people of God in both testaments, their frailty and fruitfulness, their need of a gardener to bring out their best flourishing, their provision of fruit and, more especially, wine to gladden the heart, wine soon to be poured out.
We are invited to be part of this fruitfulness and flourishing. We are invited to be part of something bigger than ourselves, joined to others as well as to Jesus. We are invited to participate, and to contribute, to give and to receive.
As Jesus and his friend walked in the dark past vineyards, the image of the vine was real, fragrant, touchable. This song was no distant allegory. It was before them. What would they have glimpsed, in the thin light?
A winter vineyard looks as dead as dead can be. The bark flakes and pulls away. But, here, in the spring, buds would have been bursting out. What appeared dead was returning to life, throwing out tendrils, leaves, maybe blossoms. They knew the importance of the vine, and the care and wisdom needed to tend it and make it fruitful. Passover required the drinking of four cups of wine…. Their blood was warmed with wine as they walked through the chill of night.
And in the spring, sap runs through its veins like blood – it pours through, swelling the hidden buds. This is a kingdom vine. The way life flows through it is like the way the Spirit will sustain Jesus’ followers after he has gone. The vine is loved and cared for by the Father. God alone is the gardener of this vine.
To a group of people who will soon be scattered in the darkness, who will abandon him, Jesus talks of remaining, abiding. He talks to them, assuring them they are already connected to the vine, already clean. What will happen does not change that for them He says this first, at the beginning of the song. All else that follows is held within the certainty that they are part of the vine.
Here is the melody of the song, and this is what we need to treasure – that we are also part of this vine, the sap flows through us.
The heart of it all is remaining in Jesus, as Jesus remains in the Father; remaining because of love, so that joy may be complete. We may not understand, but we an hold open the possibility of this love and grace and belonging.
We have talked about abiding, remaining, but the purpose of the vine is the fruit and the purpose of the pruning is to increase the vine’s capacity to bear fruit. As Jesus continues his song of the vineyard, we see this fruit linked to a circular pattern of love – it begins with the Father for the Son, flows from the Son to humanity, who are then, for the second time, commanded to love in their (our) turn. The outcome of all this is joy – Jesus’ joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.
Love, joy… from there, we are naturally drawn to another mention of fruit in the New Testament – the fruit of the Spirit.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things.
The branches attached to the vine have the life of the Spirit flowing through them. There is beauty in a fruitful vine, with its leaves, blossom and, in time, the ripening fruit. Our lives, filled ith the flow of the Spirit, can have such beauty. The life of Jesus, flowing through us, is transformative. Maybe Jesus is telling us here how the Spirit works, how our lives can be part of something greater. Connection to the soure of all life and love leads to flourishing. We are not isolated, purposeless, lonely individuals. We are part of the something greater, and we can live out our lives fruitfully.
Reflection and Response
Read the account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). Reflect on the symbolic meaning of the empty jars used for religious cleansing, here filled with fine wine at a wedding.
Colossians 1:15-20. How does this image of Christ connect with your thoughts on the vine? How do all things hold together in Christ?
Prayer and Meditation
Lectio divina meditation – rooted and grounded in love
Read Ephesians 3:14-16, asking God to speak to you by drawing your attention to a word or phrase. Read the passage out loud, slowly, twice, leaving silence between and around the readings. See where your attention snags, what strikes you, and ponder that. If you are with others, hold a time of silence, then share your words or phrases.
Read again. On the last reading, be alert to anything that applies to you or your situation directly, any place where the Holy Spirit may be moving or guiding you. Thank God for what you have learned.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. John 15:9
When you dwell on the idea of all being connected, and held together in Christ, does that help as you navigate this world in which we are more physically separate than we would wish?
Have you ever experienced anything that felt like pruning? What happened? What was that like? Offer any loss, any gain, through that process to God in prayer. Be alert to signs of new life that may emerge.
Our lives are seriously curtailed at present. Might there be, even in this real difficulty, some space where something new and better might emerge?
How can we connect in a time of disconnection? How can we show solidarity, and offer help, when the normal means of being together are not available for us?
Life and service
Connection and community
Take some time to connect with people in your community. Be on the lookout today, this week, for ways you can build connection with those around you. It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to speak to a neighbour, smiling at a passer by or something more.
ways you might be part of making a stronger community. Ideas could include:
- using local shops
- walking or cycling where you can.
- with others, notice the needs in your community, and finding ways to bless and reach out – the elderly or housebound may require help, or young families, etc.
- litter picking the streets around you, or clearing snow or leaves as appropriate
Care for a garden, or a piece of land near where you are. Collaborate with others to enrich and bless growing and living things nearby.
Further reading – I recommend Richard Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance – the Trinity and your Transformation