In my neighborhood we’re just beginning to see the flowering of trees that we hope will later produce much fruit. In the southwestern part of our state vintners are hoping for just the right mix of sun and rain that will assure an abundance of grapes this year. Driving in wine country is a breathtaking experience of seeing acres and acres first of the perfectly pruned “naked” vines secured in row after row and later those same vines in full leaf. It’s then time to walk the fields in order to see the fruit hidden among the leaves and experience the fragrance of the ripening grapes. (Oh yes, and then there is the wine tasting…)
From observing nature in this and many other ways, we come to better understand the frequent references of Jesus to life and growth in the Spirit. Often, for me, there is a word (usually a verb) that deepens the meaning of the message. Today that word is “remain.” In what scholars have come to call the “final discourse” of Jesus in John’s gospel (ch. 14-17), there are many beautiful sentiments, none more vivid or familiar, perhaps, than “the vine and the branches.” Jesus says, Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. As I read those two sentences, the verb remain, repeated four times, reverberates in me as a clear call to fidelity. The essential truth is that if the connection of the branch to the vine is severed, life is irrevocably cut off. But the responsibility for connection is not all on us! The effort of remaining steadfast in all of life’s circumstances is made worthy of any struggle because of the promise that Christ also remains in us. Knowing this, I am willing for the pruning as much as for the ripening and trust that all will come to fruition in the fullness of time.