Today in the Gospel we receive a simple, yet rich description of what it means to be a follower of Christ. When Jesus speaks comparing Himself to a “vine” and calls His followers “branches” He creates a clear picture for us (John 15.1-8); Just as the branch is dependent on the vine for life, as are we dependent on Jesus for real life. The grapevine sends nourishment and food to the branches, which in turn are able to produce abundant grapes. In the same way, when we are connected to Christ, when we “abide in Him” His life flows in us and through us, nourishing us, and the outcome is the fruit of joy and love.
With Jesus’ words, “Abide in me”, He reminds us of the relationship he desires with us and has come to offer us: “Abide in me… abide in my love, as I abide in you”. This is an intimate invitation. He invites us into a union with himself, but look at the word he uses: IN. This isn’t a relationship between merely friends. The only relationship I could think of would be that of two lovers, but in a deeper, more profound, way. Just as the vine and the branches are intricately connected, one seamlessly flowing into the other so that they are essentially one. So through our union with Christ what is true of him becomes true of us. By the work of the Spirit, Christ lives in us and we in Him, and we partake of all his riches.
But what does, what should, this abiding relationship look like? As we hear about in St.John’s letter (1 John 3.18-24) it should be lived out of an obedience to God’s commandments and a love that is expressed, not in our words, but in our actions. It is a decision that we are faced with on a daily basis and that we express through our actions and our choices of what we make a priority in our lives. It is a coming to a point of recognizing our full dependency on Him, a dependency that begins anew in every moment of our lives.
These words spoken by Jesus, “Abide in me!” are obviously important, as they are repeated several times in this short scripture passage. This is what Jesus has come for. And why he is speaking with such imagery. So that in a way we could get a taste, or some slight understanding, of His love for us, and the life He offers us. These words seem simple yet are so profound. Perhaps the words of St.Paul shed light on this for us, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galations 2.20) His deep love for us calls us to live in that love, and live out that love in our daily walk with Him.
Sounds really great! But how do we do this? How do we abide in Him, in His love. To go back to the imagery of the vine and the branches; to abide in Him we need to be receiving life from Him(as the vine) by being intricately and intimately connected to Him(as the braches) receiving His nourishment. Christ needs to feed us and fill us, and He has given us many ways:
- He has given us the Bible; Sacred Scripture. If we are to abide in Him we need to know firsthand what truth and life He is speaking to us, and the Bible is His word to us, spoken for us. Through His Word He offers us consolation, truth, and guidance.
- In response to God’s Word we must also go to Him in prayer, not only with our needs, but with open hearts to receive. This was the constant practice of Jesus himself. He recognized his own dependence on the Father and his life of prayer was a visible expression of that dependence.
- In order to abide in Christ we are also given the sacraments; this is where the truth of our union becomes tangible and visible. In baptism we die by going down into the waters and come out a new creation in Christ. In order to abide in Christ, the holy one, we need to be rejecting sin and seeking to live holy lives, so we have been given the Sacrament of Confession that we may continually return to the Father’s love for us and grow in obedience to His commands. Furthermore, through the Eucharist, Christ becomes the true sacrifice for us, entering into our humanity and uniting himself to us as we physically receive him as our spiritual nourishment.
- The sacraments further point us towards the importance of our fellowship with our spiritual community, the Church, as a means by which we experience our union with Christ. The Church is the body of Christ, and through our interaction with one another we engage and interact with Christ himself. We can receive His comfort, encouragement, and guidance through others within His body.
- We further hear that “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” In this way suffering also plays a part in us letting go of our attachments and earthly desires in allowing our lives to be shaped and united in the suffering of Christ.
Our union with Christ, this “abiding” relationship, is indeed a mystery; something not easy to grasp or explain. And so I would like to conclude with the elucidating line from St.John’s letter: “By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit he has given us.” (1 John 3.24) So it is by the work of the Holy Spirit that we are united with our Savior and experience life with and in Him. Let us draw strength then from this reality and entrust ourselves fully to Christ that, as branches, we may draw on the vitality of the true vine, Jesus Christ, to produce good fruit; fruit that is life for us, fruit that is life for the body of Christ, fruit that is life for our community, and fruit that is life for the world.