Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Vine and the Branches

 I am the vine, you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing.

These sorts of posters kind of drive me crazy
This is a verse we've heard before, we know it and we love it. Perhaps we've seen it done up as a sort of Christian inspirational print, with some grapes in the background and this quote about the vine and branches in a nice wavy cursive script. Very inspirational.

But what we have here is not Jesus the motivational speaker, this is Jesus giving his last will and testament. This discourse is taking place at the Last Supper, just hours before his agonizing Passion and Death. Jesus isn't giving a motivation talk here, he's giving one last instruction and plea before his death for his disciples to remain close to him.

Jesus uses this image of a vine and branches to demonstrate just how much we need him in our lives. What he's saying is I am the vine, you are the branches, apart from me your works are empty. I am the vine you are the branches, apart from me whatever you do means nothing. I am the vine, you are the branches, apart from me you are as good as dead. That's what he's saying when he says, "Apart from me you can do nothing." And we put it up on our houses and call it inspirational.

And it should be inspirational. It should inspire us to stay attached to the vine that gives us life. Jesus is trying to make us understand that we need him in our lives, we need him in every aspect of our lives. He says, "Apart from me you can do nothing," and yet we know we do a thousand things a day that don't seem to involve him, so we have to realize that those things we do apart from him, no matter how good they may be, are empty, are meaningless, inasmuch as they are separated from him.

We had First Communion at the parish today.
It looked something like this.
So we have to find a way to stay connected to the vine. Jesus gave us that way. Remember, this discourse from Jesus took place at the Last Supper, where Jesus gave us his own Body and Blood, his very self, hidden under bread and wine. He says, "Stay connected to me, the vine," but it's not like he's testing our cleverness to see if we can find a way to do that. He says, "Stay connected to me, the vine," and then he gives us the exact means for doing so. The Eucharist is how we stay connected to Jesus the vine, and to his Father who is the vine grower.

So if Jesus is telling the truth here when he talks about the vine and the branches, then we have to acknowledge our absolute need for the Eucharist. If we the branches are going to stay connected to the vine, then we have to stay connected to the Eucharist. The Eucharist is our connection to Jesus, because it is Jesus himself.

Beautiful Bighorns: still not as cool as Jesus
Sometimes without actually thinking about it, we redefine for ourselves what the Eucharist means. Without actually putting it into precise formulas, we start to act like the Eucharist is a symbol of Jesus and not actually Jesus himself. We don't do this explicitly or on purpose, but we do this because if we can define the Eucharist to be less than it really is, then it helps to rationalize only coming to Mass when it's convenient, or it helps to rationalize being inattentive or irreverent when we are here. But Jesus didn't leave that option open to us. In the sixth chapter of John's gospel, when Jesus explained that you would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life, many people got understandably upset and went to leave. And he let them leave. Jesus was so serious about this teaching that he let some of the disciples leave, rather than compromise the teaching that the Eucharist really is his body and blood.

Very tempting on a Sunday morning: Jesus is still cooler
So if the Eucharist is so serious that it was worth it to have some of his friends and followers desert him, then we need to examine our own attitudes and we need to make sure that we take this as seriously as Jesus does. I understand life is incredibly busy and sometimes it's just easier to sleep in on a Sunday morning, and as the weather gets warmer it's going to be really tempting to stay in the mountains another couple hours rather than come down to make it to Mass. Part of this, I suspect, is because when we look at the Eucharist, we don't see what looks like Jesus. He says, "This is my Body," and we're like, "I'm not seeing it." If he wants us to be committed to the Eucharist, then why is he so hidden in it? Part of it is that he hides so we don't have to. If the fullness of his love was unveiled in the tabernacle or on the altar, we would be afraid to come near this building at all. But he wants us, weak and sinful creatures, to be able to approach, even to receive, his power, his perfection, his holiness. So he hides himself in the Eucharist, so we don't have to hide ourselves from him.

So depend on this love. Stay connected to the vine by staying connected to the Eucharist. Jesus wants to give each of the strength we need in this life, and he wants to give it to us through the Eucharist. Our job is to respond to that love. Our job is not to make ourselves worthy, only Jesus can make us worthy. Our job is to make ourselves available to that transformative love that can only be found in him. Almost every one of us has started this lifelong path of transformation, but not a single person here is far enough. We are never far enough. However far you are in this Christian life, Jesus wants to love you more. Stay connected to the vine, be available to that love.

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