I Am the Vine
Do long distant relationships ever really work? A Friday night on the 50 yard line. The last game of the season ended in a win. Beneath the glow of the field lights, the quarterback and head cheerleader vow to remain faithful to each other as they head off to different colleges.
A job opportunity has friends embracing the night before one of them heads cross country. They use the reality of email, texting, Facebook and Skype as an elixir to remedy the fear of loss. But come tomorrow, they will no longer sit on each others’ porches. Do long distance relationships ever really work?
They can until one or the other walks away. It’s an odd scripture for us to be reading during this Easter season because it sends us back in time; back to the night before Jesus is arrested in the garden. To a time Jesus when is saying farewell to his disciples. I find myself wondering what Jesus felt in those moments when he spoke the words, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” What was he feeling as he sat there staring into blank, innocent faces, faces he so desperately loved? Those who had no idea of what was coming down the pike. Those, like Judas, who had already left him. Those, like Peter, of whom he had already predicted his denial. What did Jesus feel knowing the monsoon was coming and those he loved had no idea of the aftermath of this destruction? Lambs to the slaughter. It must have broken his heart.
This is Jesus being fully human. Recognizing that in saying good-bye, even if it is for the future good of all, is still so damn hard. Damn hard when all you want to do is protect the ones you love. Hard, when you know that a soon-to-be-severed relationship will bring about acute emotional atrophy. It brings with it fear, fear of an unknown future; fear of a loss of belonging, fear of no longer being needed, a loss of those who center us, anchor us. Without connection there is wilting and you and I know what that wilting feels like. A parent who passes. The kids who live too far away and are so busy with their own lives they don’t have time to call. A close friend moves away.
“I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me bear much fruit; but without me, you can do nothing. You will wither and be gathered up and thrown into the fire.”
There are too many who want to trot out this verse as validation for exclusion, for making discipleship of Jesus an elite club. They say this is God’s truth, that John is hell-bent on making sure that those who do not believe in Jesus are destined for the fiery furnace. Nothing could be further from that truth. It’s sad really that so many Christians who are supposed to have their souls steeped in love, are so ready to cast others away, just to exonerate themselves.
This moment is not about that. This is a friend saying good-bye to his friends, and where we find Jesus at his pastoral best. It is an image of absolute reliance. Jesus is declaring that there is a connectedness between us that not even the powers of death can sever. Death will try. Death will place their relationship on a cross and try to imprison it in a tomb. But Jesus will never walk away from us.
He is the vine and we are the branches. Without attachment to this vine, without attachment to the root of life, without attachment to a vine that is drawing its nourishment from that eternal spring which will never run dry, we will wilt. Life wilts. No longer connected to the life giving vine, people will fight for survival. Becoming self- absorbed in their search for fulfillment, they become narcissistic, suspicious of those around them who are succeeding where they are not. They mimic, they copy, they covet all in order to be recognized, a need to belong. Envy, jealously, fear spiral them into a world of protectionism, exclusiveness, revenge and even hate. Jesus doesn’t want that for his friends and, be reminded today that Jesus has called us his friends. Without being connected to his vine, a life filled with resurrection is not possible.
Are long distant relationships possible? Sure they are, at least until one or another walks away. Jesus is trying to comfort us this morning by saying he is the vine to which we can remain attached forever. If you are not feeling that connectedness, then guess who is walking away.