The vine and its branches.
Grapes are amazing, you know? There are hundreds of varieties, and humans have been cultivating this incredible plant for thousands of years. 8000 years ago, people in the Middle East began the cultivation of this plant. They found that not only did it provide food to eat, food that can be stored and dried to eat too, but yeast, that occurs naturally on the skins of grapes, led to the discovery of alcoholic drinks such as wine. What’s not to like in that?
Yeast, excellent for making bread from that other stable crop in the Middle East, wheat, became one of the earliest domesticated microorganisms. Bread and wine: now that’s familiar!
As we have been compared to branches of the vine, provider of such excellence, let us take a closer look at how these plants grow. There is always a back story in Jesus’ sayings and parables.
Grapevines are grown in long rows and each one has a support system. When you look at a vineyard the plants are nice and straight, and each vine has poles which keep the branches upright, gives them the best chance of growing well to bear fruit. And it’s interesting that in the springtime you can see these little branches, they’re also called canes, grow and as they grow, they tend to curl around anything that they can reach.
We have wisteria, also a vine, growing at our house. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love those plants, they give a great show at the end of spring, masses of purple flowers. But, wow, once they get growing, those little branches, those tendrils try to get in everywhere. When we moved in, there was a little tendril doing its best to get in at the bedroom window. And they grab hold of any other plant, or branch, and pretty soon have wound their way right among the fruit tree or the red current bush.
This is just what a grapevine’s branches would do if it wasn’t trained. The owner of the vineyard puts the wires up all along the row of vines, so that they can direct the branches into growing close to the Vine. This training of the vine is essential for getting a good crop of fruit. It may seem a bit alien to train plants in this way, but most fruit producing trees benefit from a bit of structure.
Anyway, you didn’t come here for a lesson on horticulture, but as in many things, we can learn much about God’s intensions for our lives if we have a bit more information about the examples given in the Bible.
So, let’s put all this into context. The first is the protection of God as the gardener. Jesus says he is the vine, and the health of the vine has to start in the ground— with the soil —with the nutrients. If you look around a vineyard you will observe that the grass is kept cut down and they get rid of the weeds, so that all the nutrients go into the vine… so that the vine and its branches grow strong and healthy.
We are called to have our lives rooted in the scriptures and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, because like those branches, we are kept healthy and alive because we are connected to the source of life, and because we are helped to grow in a way that encourages the best fruit. The translators of the New Testament have used various words to describe this connection. Whether we talk of ‘abiding’, ‘remaining’, or ‘being joined’, one thing is clear, being connected to Christ is crucial. It is the only way toa complete life.
Then there is this example of structure. I don’t know about you, but I know for myself, we sometimes can get a little frustrated when God calls for structure within our lives. Structure such as a regular time each day for reading God’s Word, and for prayer. And yet really when we remain within such a structure we are fed, and light and grace can flow more freely.
The branches of the grapevine are expected to produce a crop of juicy grapes. And so it is with us. Jesus is the vine and from the branches Jesus says he expects to find a lot of fruit. The kind of fruit that should be evident in our lives is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23). The fruit we bear shows itself in very practical ways.
If you are joined to Christ, you cannot look the other way when someone is in need.
As a branch attached to Christ, we don’t hold back our forgiveness,
we try to be understanding and helpful.
Being joined to Christ means being encouraging instead of being negative and critical.
Being connected to Jesus means that you will seek reconciliation instead of adding fuel to disharmony.
It means showing love and patience to those whom you think don’t deserve it.
Being joined to Jesus has practical implications for the way we live our everyday lives. This nice picture of the vine, branches and fruit is not some theoretical thing. Bearing fruit isn’t an optional extra.
Now, there’s another aspect to producing fruit. To have a good crop of grapes it is necessary for the vines to be pruned. If you observe pruning after the harvest, you would be amazed at how ruthless these men are when it comes to cutting back. All the long branches are cut off, leaving only the main trunk and a couple of thicker branches tied to the stringer.
All of us in this life grow extra foliage, the stuff of the world. This foliage that makes us look successful in this world, will not necessarily help us to bear fruit that will bring glory to God.
There are times when this foliage needs to be pruned away. When these times come, and they may be painful, we need to trust God, and rely on his faithfulness and mercy and love. If we remain in the vine, if we trust him,
we will be blessed with renewed growth, and can bear more abundant fruit.
From Jesus we receive the nourishment we need to live as his disciples. We receive the forgiveness we need for our failures; we grow in our understanding of what it means to be a baptised person in everyday living.
We are still in the Easter season. Because the vine lives, so do the branches. Our faith is strengthened as we are nourished through God’s Word and Sacrament. As we approach his Table today, what is on your mind? Maybe you find it difficult only taking communion in one kind, and we long for that time when all can partake freely. Until then, know that Jesus has given himself freely for you; he did it on the cross, and he does it in the Eucharist.
Christians are a covenanted people; when we celebrate the Eucharist, we re-covenant ourselves, we re-pledge ourselves to the Christian life. We commit ourselves to remain in Christ, and to bear his fruit abundantly.
It is no co-incidence that we are called to look at these close links between grain and grapes, the staple food and drink of people in the Middle East at that time. Jesus is always about life, giving it and sustaining it, and it is our joy to serve with him, to share this life to others.