Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - May 2, 2021
On the Fifth Sunday of Easter, the Church prays that God will “constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us” and that, under his protective care, those made new in Holy Baptism may “bear much fruit and come to the joys of life eternal” (Collect for Mass). The meaning of the Church’s prayer becomes clear when we hear Jesus in today’s Gospel refer to himself as the True Vine and to us as the branches. Those who were just baptized at Easter and all of us who renewed our baptismal promises at Easter together find and enjoy the protective care of God that enables us to bear fruit and journey to the joys of eternal life.
Remaining in the Christ the true vine tells us that we are always under the care of the vine grower, who is God himself. Just as Jesus remains in the Father, so we are to remain in Jesus. The images and prophecies of the Old Testament had spoken of Israel as the vine or vineyard of the Lord. Taking the image for himself, Jesus emphasizes that he is the true and ideal vine who incorporates the new people of God.
Remaining in Christ the true vine means that God’s care involves pruning or purification. Here is another image for the caring action of God in our lives. The Father “takes away” unfruitful branches and “prunes” fruitful ones so that they bear more fruit. The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us an example of this as we hear about the aftermath of God’s purifying care that brought Saint Paul to see and believe in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, and to speak boldly in the name of the Lord.
Remaining in Christ the true vine is what makes it possible for us to bear fruit. Jesus reminds us, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because, without me, you can do nothing.” The First Reading from Acts tells us about the prosperity and growth of the early church as it “was being built up and walking in fear of the Lord and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.” The presence of the Risen Lord in their midst was crucial, and the early Church thrived by remaining in Him. The Second Reading confirms this when it concludes with the words, “Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us.”
Remaining in Christ the true vine is also a source of comfort and reassurance of the full and intimate communion we have with our Lord. Both the Gospel of John and the First Letter of John exhort us to trust in and live out that communion in love that finds expression in deed and truth. When we believe in the name of God’s Son and love one another just as he commanded, we remain in him and he in us. We can rely on his support and encouragement to live the new life he came to bring to us.
Today, we are called to see ourselves as part of the true vine that is Christ himself and to trust that if we serve Him, the fruit will come. When we think and pray about what makes us part of the true vine, we must acknowledge that, first, it is about Christ’s faithfulness to us and the fruit of our labors. Secondly, it is also about our faithfulness to him and the faithfulness of our witness to others. Our faithfulness and witness depend on our remaining in and with our Lord. For that reason, we continue to pray that the God of all life and love, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and sent him to open the way for us to eternal life, will keep us firmly united to his Son, the true vine, who has called us to bear much fruit and become his disciples.