Easter 6A 2005 John 15:1-8
Last week our gospel lesson from Saint John was the many mansions passage, mansions translated as dwelling places in the most
used modern translations. The Greek word used is monh, used also for residence, or abode. One of the closest translations
for this word is abiding place, especially apt in terms of what in our gospel for today is addressed by Jesus with his disciples.
Jesus told them – and us – “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you
can do nothing.” The verb used is the verb form – menw – with levels of meaning and connotations of abide,
continue with, dwell with or in, endure, be present with, remain with, stand by, wait for. It is interesting to plug each
of those shades of meaning into what Jesus said about abiding in him and he in us. It’s an exercise that is part of
diving – plunging, really – into the deep well springs of Holy Scripture: “Those who abide in, continue
with, dwell with or in, endure, be present with, remain with, stand by, wait for me and I in them bear much fruit, because
apart from me you can do nothing.”
There are two powerful metaphors that Jesus uses in the part of what is known as his farewell discourse in the gospel according
to Saint John, stretching across four chapters. The physical context is the upper room where Jesus and his disciples are
gathered for their Passover meal. Those of us who know the rest of the story know it both as the Last Supper as well as the
Lord’s Supper during Holy Communion.
Abode, abide, and abiding place constitute one of these metaphors. The other is that of the vine, including the image of
the vine grower who prunes the branches. Jesus links the two together: “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself
unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.”
Here’s a story that helps tie them together:
“The grape branch struggled mightily to hold on to the four huge, tightly packed clusters of grapes. That fruit emitted
strong wafts of delicious aroma, and the look of the grapes seemed to insist on being picked and eaten. The branch could
not hold back the self-confident satisfaction deep within the nuclei of each cell. It knew it was a grape branch. Appearance,
fruit and chemical composition assured it of never being anything but a grape branch. Obviously the very best at that.
“So the branch decided indulging in a little ungrapelike behavior would hurt nothing. “Once a grape branch,
always a grape branch,” it assured itself. It detached itself from the vine. No, it had neither intention nor desire
to be anything less than a healthy, beautiful, productive grape branch. It just felt that submitting to the whims of the
vine was no longer necessary. After all, its identity could never be changed!
“Before long, though, the branch no longer felt strong and vigorous. In fact, it felt utterly drained and limp. Its
grapes withered and dropped off. So did its leaves. Eventually it looked like a stick in the ground. Then it was broken
up, and all that remained of it were small particles of various nutrients to be absorbed by other plants.
”The other branches, still attached to the vine and plentifully nourished by it, produced a bountiful harvest for the
master of the vineyard.” Without the vine, they could do nothing. (1)
Vineyards are flourishing all over the Northern Neck. Some years ago, when we spent the weekend at our little cottage in
Westmoreland County, we would go to church at Saint Peter’s, Oak Grove, the Flemmer family church. Carl Flemmer, who
was just developing Ingleside winery, told me that grape vines could reach down 75 feet at maturity. That seemed incredible
until I read this story. It also helps to illuminate what Jesus was saying to his disciples:
In the Bordeaux region of France, vintners have a saying: “La vigne doit souffrir,” the vine must suffer. This
is a realistic and practical insight because the world’s best Bordeaux does not grow on rich soil. The vineyards around
Bordeaux are arid, stony, pebbly, and dry, forcing the vine to
burrow deeper and deeper to reach life-giving moisture. These deep roots then pump water to the branches, which will subsequently
In the center of Bordeaux itself one vine has survived for at least 500 years. Its trunk, leaning against a pharmacy, is
as thick as a tree, and its roots are estimated to go down 120 feet. But it still produces grapes — not Cabernet, not
Merlot, not Shiraz or Malbec, but a curious archaic variety. The wine made from the fruits of this vine has a mysterious
This old vine has suffered for 500 years to bring moisture to the branches, which by themselves would
amount to nothing. Disconnected from the source of life, they would be dry and barren wood. Jesus said to his disciples
“Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the
fire, and burned.” (2)
This was a metaphor that resonated with his disciples that night. It resonates with me when I remember my three years in
Germany. Every fall the European wine growers would whack the branches off the vines and burn them. In Germany during those
several weeks, the Rhine Valley in particular was filled with the bitter smoke of burning grape vines. On the hillsides,
only the old stumps remained, with their roots deep in the stony earth – waiting to burst forth with branches and fruit
in the new birth of spring.
Let me close with two modern parables. Like all parables, the listeners must draw out their meaning for themselves.
In a delightful book called "To See The World In A Grain Of Sand," there is a fable of a wise old cat who notices a kitten
chasing its tail ...
"Why are you chasing your tail so?" asks the wise old cat. The kitten replies, "I have learned that the best thing for a
cat is happiness, and happiness is in my tail. Therefore, I am chasing it, and when I catch it, I shall have happiness."
The wise old cat responds, "I too have judged that happiness is in my tail. But I notice that whenever I chase it, it keeps
running away from me. And when I go about my business of being a proper cat, it just seems to come after me wherever I go."
"The fable of The Birds" is a story about creation ...
All the newly created animals were walking around discovering what it was like to be alive -- all except the birds.
The birds were doing nothing but complaining because God had given them a heavy burden that He had given no other animal:
those awkward appendages on their shoulders. Why did they have to carry these things around, making it hard for them to walk.
"Why?" they asked. "Why us?"
Finally, two or three of the more adventurous birds began to move their appendages. They began to flutter them and soon,
they discovered that the very thing they had regarded as a burden, actually made it possible for them to fly. (3) To be the
birds they were intended to be.
1. Mark Roth, “Jesus, the true vine,” Christian Light Publications, May 16, 1999, anabaptists.org, as quoted
in “Canopy Management”, Homiletics on Line.
2. Adapted from Uwe Siemon-Netto (UPI religion editor) in UPI International (May 16, 2003), as quoted in Synthesis for Easter
3. Voicings Publications, Friday Night Special Sermon, 29 April 2005, www.voicings.com. adapted