Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” (Read the whole passage here).
Today, Jesus is speaking to his disciples using the image of vines and branches. His words come in the many teachings that Jesus leaves with his disciples on the night of the Last Supper. These words are spoken, knowing that very shortly Jesus will be arrested, tried, and sentenced to the cross.
The disciples have no idea about what is the come, they believed they were simply sharing a passover meal with the friend and teacher. Yet, Jesus is preparing them. Preparing them for what it will mean for him to die.
We know the rest of the story for the disciples. We know that they do not present themselves very well. They protest when Jesus says one of them will betray him. Peter rebukes Jesus for talking about dying. They fall asleep in the garden. One of them cuts off the ear of a servant when Jesus is arrested. Peter denies Jesus 3 times. They all scatter when Jesus is taken away.
The disciples are trying to hold on. Trying to hold on to Jesus, trying to hold on to life. But no matter how hard they protest or misunderstand or try to protect, everything seems to be falling apart around them. And Jesus tried to prepare them for this reality.
We still have the same problem as the disciples. We desperately try to hold on to life at all costs. And we are best at doing it right here, right in the church. Many Christians might find it easier to lose a job, or move out of a family home, or send kids away to university than to imagine closing down their local church. And Jesus is talking about just that today. Jesus is speaking about what it means to be the body of Christ, to be a community that at times needs to be pruned and needs to die.
It is hard for us to imagine letting go. The disciples could not let Jesus go to the cross. The tried in every way they could to keep him from dying, and we are no different. We try to hold on to life at all costs. We search for ways keep alive just a little longer, we want a little more, more time, more people, more resources.
But Jesus is preparing us for what it means to live AND what it means to die as the body of Christ.
The image of the vine and the branches shows us the fullness of life in the church. As the body of Christ we are in a constant state of dying and rising, of life and death. As people of faith we must learn when to let go.
For you see, life in the Church is to practice letting go, not to practice holding on. We know that generations come and go. We know that people and members come and go. We know that pastors come and go. We even know that congregations come and go. And that is why each Sunday we join together and we practice letting go.
We practice letting go through forgiveness. We ask for and receive, we offer and give. We let go of our guilt and sin, we set aside the hurts and grief we carry because of what others have done to us. We ask to be released from the hurt and suffering we have caused to our neighbours and loved ones.
We practice letting go by giving up of self-righteousness. We come to the baptismal font as unclean sinners, and God makes us clean, God declares us forgiven. We come with hands open, as beggars hoping to be fed, and God feeds us with God’s own body and blood. And there is nothing that we bring to earn this gift.
We practice letting go by giving up control. We remind ourselves that there are things that we have done and things we have left undone. We admit that much of what happens to us, to this church, to our community is simply beyond us. And the world marches on with or without us.
This is the life of Church. This is where God meets us. As we let go, as we die to our sin, as we die to our need to control and as we simply die, God meets and gathers, God takes hold of us and makes us alive.
This is how God works in the world. God turns death into life. Like the grape vine that is left out for winter, with branches and rotten grapes still clinging, we hold on to life, any kind of life, even if it is rotten.
But Christ says, “You have already been cleansed , You have been pruned, by the word that I have spoken to you.” Eve while we still hold on, God is doing the work of pruning us, God is making us let go of all the excess, the rotten fruit, the dead leaves, all the things that keep us from dying AND because of that keep us from living. Like a vine-grower that knows how to not only make us alive, but knows how to make us bear good fruit, God knows how to cut away from us all the things that keep us from bearing fruit. God prunes us of our sin, of our self righteousness and God prepares us to die.
And so it is with us. We also die, so that we can become alive again. We live and die as the Body of Christ, as a congregation of believers. We come each week to die to our sin, only to be forgiven with new life. We watch as members go from our community, and generations get older, only to see new members join our community, only to welcome new generations in our midst.
And all the while, even as we do our best to hold on to rotten fruit and the dying memories of the past long gone, God is pruning us and burying us. But God does not put us in the ground in order to end us, but we die and are buried so that we can bear new life once again. New and luscious, green and leafy, fruit filled life.