St Etheldreda's

Roman Catholic Church

Homilies from St Etheldreda's

The vine and its branches

Posted May 2, 2021

5th Sunday of Easter. Yr B

Jesus is the vine, we are the branches (John 15: 1-8).  We draw sap from him. Every page of St John’s Gospel tells us that this sap is the life that originates in the depths of God’s being.  Of this life Jesus is the reservoir, and from this reservoir we receive life in abundance.  ‘As the Father has life in himself’, Jesus says, ‘so he has given to the Son also to have life in himself.’  ‘I came so that they might have life, and life in abundance.’  It is this divine life that flows through the veins of the branches that grow from the vine.

Understood in this way, the image of the vine and the branches is truly beautiful. The trouble is, however, that it doesn’t seem to resonate with anything in our actual experience.  The life that has its origins in God is not something we can feel, as we can feel a heartbeat, or a caress, or pins and needles.  It is so utterly divine that it risks becoming just an article of faith rather than a reality that makes itself felt in our lived experience.  It is a bit too heavenly to be relevant.

Look at it this way, though.  What comes to us through the sap of the vine is not just heavenly and divine, but also completely human.  For Jesus’ divinity and his humanity are inseparable.  The Word became flesh.  There is no divine life available to us that is not accompanied by a human heartbeat.  Indeed, when Jesus’ divinity is conveyed to us, it is conveyed to us entirely through the medium of his humanity.  When he shares his divinity with us, he shares with us also his humanity: his will, his vision, his values; his love of truth and his abhorrence of evil; his feelings, his reactions, his aspirations; his compassion and boundless love; his emotions, altogether sublime and beautiful, rooted in God and vibrant with the very life of God.   

It is surely this human character of the sap of the vine that Jesus is referring to when he says, immediately after this passage about the vine and branches: ‘These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.’   It is also what he meant in the previous chapter when he said:  ‘My peace I give you.’  His joy becomes ours; his peace becomes ours.  We share in the spring of his emotions.  Joy and peace are not divine abstractions, not just articles of faith.  They pervade your feelings, they become flesh in you, you feel them in your guts.  That is the sap that flows through the veins of those who abide in Jesus the vine, and he in them.  The sap that rises from the eternal depths of God is the Holy Spirit: and, as St Paul says, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control – in other words, everything that characterizes Jesus in his humanity, and everything, therefore, that promises to make us truly human.

Now that may not be pins and needles, but it is relevant to our human experience, and it is there for the taking.  Easter is the gift of perfect humanity, and you must ask yourself whether you have made an effort to reach for it, and to abide in it; whether you are even interested in it; or whether in fact your religion makes you less than human.  Ask the Father to prune away the unproductive wood in your life, so that you may be Christlike in everything you do, think and feel: assimilated to the perfect humanity of Jesus.  Our religion consists in being assimilated to Jesus’ deepest instincts; in being absorbed into his most tender emotions; in allowing him to imprint his character on the fabric of our soul; in allowing his Spirit to become the well-spring of our attitudes and actions.   

Come close to the Lord in prayer every day and ask him to share with you more and more his perfect humanity, as the days and the years go by.  Our daily task is to become what we are: to get closer to Jesus, to die with him daily, to rise with him, to suffer with him, to rejoice with him, to practise truth with him, to rely on him entirely and on him alone; to let him take over our lives day by day, from one hour to the next: until he attunes our every instinct to his own.

Let’s pray for one another earnestly today that we shall all experience anew what it is to draw life from Jesus, to share his joy; and that we shall resolve to remain in the vine, and bear much fruit in our daily lives.   

Every Eucharist invites us to become more keenly aware of all this, to be astonished at what Jesus is doing to us, and to want it more and more.  The Eucharist brings about in us a gradual assimilation to the character of Jesus, week by week, year in, year out.  Only at the end of our lives, when time and space are no more, only then shall we understand what an astounding miracle has been taking place in us – when, as the poet says, ‘in a flash we are all at once what Christ is’.

That’s what the Father intended when he planted that vine.

Fr Tom Deidun

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