The Vine and the Branches by Laura Sotka
This Sunday, Jesus will ask us to “remain” (or “abide,” depending on the translation) in him. The Gospel writer, John, must have very much wanted this message to land listeners across the ages, as this word appears 11 times in 11 verses! Talk about emPHASis. Whenever that sort of repetition occurs, the geek in me can’t resist going to the Greek to find meaning, like a good Lutheran Catholic (I was referred to that way recently, to my delight). The process is easy thanks to Blue Letter Bible (www.blueletterbible.org). The verb is μένω ménō.
The first translation is “to remain, abide.” but then the dictionary goes deeper: to sojourn, tarry; not to depart; to continue to be present; to be held, kept, continually, not to perish; to last, endure; to survive, live; to remain as one, not to become another or different; to wait for, await one.
Do any of those speak to you? I’m feeling resonance with “to last, endure; to survive.” This past few years has at times called for a sort of patient endurance that I don’t have, naturally. but somehow I keep finding it. I credit my meditation practice. I credit our community’s prayer. There is a line in the 12 Step movement that claims we will see that “God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”
Branches don’t last once they are snipped. I was just outside nipping “suckers” off our very modest apple tree. We went down to Lakeville to a nursery years ago planning on picking up a crabapple tree. In a rag tag set aside were lots of random shrubbery and trees. Of course with our famous frugality, Pete and I started looking over the options.
Justin was about seven. He flew over to us filled with excitement. He’d found an apple tree! Come see it! So we wandered over and there was a very nice sized “unidentified” species. Maybe honey crisp. Maybe something else. No guarantees. Very cheap.
Pete and I looked at each other as Justin and Nora extolled us on how much better it would be to have a tree that gave REAL APPLES. We could only think of spraying and maintenance. But bought the tree.
It’s the centerpiece of the front garden. I have almost two decades of first-day-of-school pictures in front of that tree. Some years it’s a mess, totally unmaintained. Other years are better. Mostly we have not sprayed, so gnarly if tasty apples, only a few, are the norm.
Although some years we were good gardeners and some years bad, the tree endures. It’s our living example of the “true vine.” As long as it was sunk in the earth and the branches stayed attached, the tree has produced.
So endurance. In harsh years and full years, lean years and fat years. For me, all Jesus asks is that I don’t take that lopper and snip myself off. I just need to stay attached in order to now wither and die.
The early Christians remained in Christ in four practical ways: They listened to the teaching of the apostles, which we receive in the Gospels and Epistles (the letters) and the Acts of the Apostles. They gathered for mutual support and community connection, a fellowship that would soon be socially ostracized but maintained its integrity. They broke the bread and shared the cup, and they continued in prayer (Acts 2:42). This Sunday, let’s explore the ways in which we can abide, remain, endure, sojourn, tarry, with Christ, our true vine.