Just a word… Fifth Sunday of Easter…
Just a word… Fifth Sunday of Easter… May 2, 2021
The Hebrew Scriptures refer to Israel as the vineyard so the metaphor that Jesus employed in today’s gospel would speak readily to his gathered friends. They had just finished the last supper before his passion; there was danger and death in the air. Jesus was feeling a deep connection with his friends, so he looked for an image to illustrate this bond. On his way to the Garden Jesus saw the perfect symbol. “See the vine? See the bond that exists between the vine and the branches? That’s how it is between you and me. I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me, you will live. If you cut yourself off, you will die. See how the branches draw strength from the vine? Remain attached and together we will produce much fruit.”
Jesus’ use of the vine and branches metaphor speaks again to his followers, including us, of the essential nature of relationship. By virtue of being branches, we are connected not only with the Lord, but with one another. We are also connected to all the other branches, from the millions of people who are suffering from starvation and oppression, to those we love, and to those we find difficult to love.
Vines and their branches require a good deal of care if they are to stay connected and produce fruit. It seems that Jesus in his parting message to his friends is telling them that being connected is not enough; one must produce as well. How are we to produce good fruit and not languish on the vine? A personal relationship with Jesus, a movement toward the indwelling that the image of the vine and branches evokes, implies not only a faith in Jesus but a way of living, by loving God and neighbor, that slowly leads us to more resemble Christ.
Relationship is key; our relationship with the Lord nourishes us to be able to reach out to others, to spread the vine and therefore the kingdom. How does the Lord feed us? With word and sacrament, within the gathered community, the Lord reaches into our heads and our hearts to offer us food for our journeys, calling on us to “love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”
We need nutritious food to keep ourselves bonded to the Lord, to work in concert for the good of the entire vine and not just our own special branch. The words of Pope Francis can help us understand this:
“Eucharist is the sacrament of communion that brings us out of individualism so that we may follow (Christ) together, living out our faith in him.”
But the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ; how can we, as simple branches, sinners all, be deserving of such celestial food? Again, Pope Francis supplies the clue:
“ The Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
Who among us does not need this medicine and this nourishment? Indeed, it is essential if we are to do as Jesus would have us do, to “love one another as I have loved you.”