Sunday, 29 April 2018

‘I am the true vine …
Abide in me as I abide in you’

The True Vine ... an icon in the parish church in Piskopianó in the mountains east of Iraklion in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 29 April 2018,

The Fifth Sunday of Easter.

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

11 a.m.:
Group Parish Eucharist,

Readings: Acts 8: 26-40; Psalm 22: 25-31; I John 4: 7-21; John 15: 1-8.

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower’ (John 15: 1) ... a small vineyard in Platanes, near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I have here two bunches of grace.

Now, who is going to offer each person here one grape each?

[Children distribute one grape each to everyone.]

Now, one grape in your hand looks fine, but the stem of the vine that is left looks dishevelled and grotty – a sign of things once promised, but no good on its own.

Grapes on their own as individuals are small fruit. A vine on its own without a weed looks forlorn and wilting, if not dead.

A few years ago, a friend in Greece was very excited when he realised we were returning to his village in Crete that summer for our holidays.

He rang us with gushing enthusiasm and delight. We must come and see what he had done with the ‘graveyard’ in his village, Piskopianó.

‘The graveyard?’

Now, I am interested in visiting churches and churchyards, and graveyards and gravestones provide rich material for social, local and family history.

But a graveyard is not the first place you think your friends want you to visit on a holiday in the Mediterranean.

So, I asked again: ‘The graveyard?’

‘Yes, you’re going to be delighted to see how the vines are growing with new life. You remember how I trimmed back the vines and the branches and how I built new trellises. Now there is a rich crop in the grapeyard this year.’

The grapeyard! Of course. Now it makes sense.

I had shown an interest in his grapes, his vineyard … and a healthy interest in wine.

Now a new lesson awaited me on how to grow grapes, how to trim the vines, and how vines, like people, only make sense in clusters.

The grapes on the bunch, and the clusters on the vine, produce better fruit and better wine when they are together, working together, abiding in and with each other.

‘Fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink’ … grapes ripening on a vine in Platanes, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Gospel story this morning, Christ talks about himself as the true vine, and he invites us to abide in him as he abides in us. The Prayer of Humble Access prays ‘that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us.’

In our Gospel reading this morning (John 15: 1-8), he tells us: ‘I am the true vine.’

This is the seventh and last of the seven ‘I AM’ (ἐγώ εἰμι, ego eimi) sayings in Saint John’s Gospel. They begin with ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6: 35) and end with ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15: 1). It is as though our experience of meeting Christ together in the Eucharist, in sharing the bread and wine together, collectively, encloses our experiences of Christ as the light of the world (John 8:12), the gate for the sheep (John 10: 7), the good shepherd (John 10: 11), the resurrection and the life (John 11: 25), and the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14: 6).

Poetically, the bread and the vine open and close these seven ‘I AM’ sayings.

At the celebration of the Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and I noticed again at a mid-week celebration of the in some of the Eucharistic in the Lichfield Cathedral, how traditional Jewish table-blessings, drawn in turn from the Bible, are adapted at the Taking of the Bread and Wine:

Priest: Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation:
through your goodness we have this bread to offer,
which earth has given and human hands have made (Ecclesiastes 3: 13-14).
It will become for us the bread of life (John 6: 35).
All: Blessed be God forever (Psalm 68: 36).

Priest: Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation:
through your goodness we have this wine to offer,
fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
It will become our spiritual drink (Luke 22: 17-18).

All: Blessed be God forever (Psalm 68: 36).

[See also Common Worship (Church of England), p 291.]

Our openness to Christ present in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist is at the beginning and the end of our acceptance of who Christ is for us.

The image in our reading this morning is of God the vine grower and the gardener. Christ is the vine and we are branches bearing fruit.

The vine is trimmed so that it can grow new fruit. But this is not the heart of the teaching here. Instead, the image offered here is one of abiding and remaining. The image of vine grower, the vineyard, the vine and the branches is one about the living Word existing as the life blood of those who belong to Christ.

The Johannine scholar Raymond Brown says this passage is about the disciples remaining in Christ. Many people in the Church talk about following Jesus and leading a virtuous life. But here, the image of abiding is about being, not about becoming. If we are abiding in Christ, then God is central, not the desires of our egos.

The Prayer of Humble Access prays ‘that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us’

And so, when we are invited to the Holy Table, to the Holy Communion, the Eucharist, it is not because we lead a virtuous life, and we should not be afraid to come to the Eucharist, fretting that others think we live lives that are not virtuous.

Instead, the words of the Prayer of Humble Access remind us:

We do not presume to come to this your table,
merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness
but in your manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table.
But you are the same Lord,
whose nature is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ,
and to drink his blood,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us. Amen.

Christ is Risen!

‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ … late autumn grapes and branches clinging to vines in November at the Hedgehog on the northern edge of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 1-8

[Jesus said:] 1 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’

‘I am the true vine, and my father is the vine-grower (John 15: 1) ... vineyards on the slopes of the hills in Tuscany (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: White.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Easter V):

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
Grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
in word and sacrament
we proclaim your truth in Jesus Christ and share his life.
In his strength may we ever walk in his way,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Hymns:

39, For the fruits of his creation

634, Love divine, all loves excelling

468, How shall I sing that majesty

A Mediterranean village vineyard … grapes ripening in Tsesmes, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This sermon was prepared for Sunday 29 April 2018.

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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