Springtime: things are growing everywhere as May begins, and so much of that new life and beauty simply a gift to us. We may do our part – planting, watering, fertilizing, protecting from bugs and rabbits – but what grows is in the end a miracle —the plants and flowers that grow from the seeds or from last fall’s bulbs; a bit later, the tomato plants that grow large and, when pruned, eventually yield so many tomatoes in August. Life pulses through those slender green vines and branches, and the fruits are many and beautiful; what is alive, keeps growing, that there be more life.
John 15 tells us that our life in Christ is like that too, a miracle that happens because Christ is not simply a giver of life, but he is alive in us, pulsing through us. You know vineyards, the reading assumes, so don’t take for granted the grapes you eat, the wine that you are drinking. Think of how that wine came to be — from the grapes, from the branch, from the vine cultivated over many years — and see that all of that is a great sign about God in us:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15.2)
Indeed, we live by a great mystery, our life streaming and pulsating the life of Christ:
"I am the vine; you are the branches. (15.5a)
And so, at the foundation of anything we can imagine doing is the mystery of simple presence, God dwelling, abiding in us:
"Abide in me, as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must abide in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me. (15.4)
Jesus nuances this claim three times over, to make sure we get the point:
"If you abide in me and I in you — you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.
"If you do not abide in me — you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
"If you abide in me and my words abide in you — ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (15.5b-7)
Abiding, dwelling, being present and as it were inside one another, without action or words: that in itself is a wonderful form of prayer — abide in Christ, let Christ abide in you. Remember the hymn, Abide with me? There are many settings of it, but try this one by Audrey Assad .
But where does this lead? Like flowers that blossom, grapes that ripen, love grows slowly, as the divine life wells up within us. God alive within us is the glory of God:
"All this is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, that you show yourselves to be my disciples. (15.8)
Very beautiful indeed, God's glory in the fullness of human lives, words, deeds. But is any of this happening in my life or your life? Can all this be true, not just for the women and men who were Jesus’ disciples on that Holy Thursday night when Jesus spoke of the vine and the branches, but for us too? An answer is at hand. When we doubt our capacity to overflow with the love of God in Christ, we can be encouraged by today’s second reading, from the First Letter of John, Chapter 3. Here we are told that we can love and be generous with a certain graced recklessness:
"If anyone has material possessions and sees a sister or brother in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (I John 3.17-18)
And how do we know that our deeds will matter? When so much is to be done, can we do anything that matters? But that is like the branch wondering if it can produce grapes — of course not, unless it is in a living connection with the vine. So too here in I John 3, the letter-writer tells us that confidence in our deeds is possible, because it is a matter of trusting our own hearts, and trusting God who is deeper than our hearts:
"This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: Even if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything." (3.19-20)
Take heart, trust our hearts, where the Lord abides even now — bringing us to a fullness of life so abundant that we can share it with all those who are hungry and thirsty, alone and unloved, cut off in grief and loss. And all of this goes deep into the mystery of love, God's love and our love:
"Love one another as I have loved you. (15.12)
But that miracle of overflowing love is the theme for next Sunday, as we continue reading John 15.
(An earlier version of this homily appears in this week's online Mass. This series of written homilies, begun in March 2020, will end on Pentecost Sunday.)