4-27-15 - The Long Goodbye

If John’s Gospel is a reliable historical record (a question over which scholars have spilled much ink through the centuries…), the Last Supper must have lasted a Long Time. As John tells it, after the drama and the rituals of washing feet, breaking bread and sharing wine, Jesus delivers himself of many Last Words. This discourse, which fills chapters 14-18 of the Fourth Gospel, is dense, elliptical, sometimes repetitive - and full of nuggets of teaching that theologians would later mine in developing core church doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, the Holy Spirit, Heaven.

These words are not as a transcript. At best, they are a compilation of memories and themes, filtered through several witnesses some 40-50 years after the events being described, and responding to movements and controversies in the early church. And yet I choose to believe Jesus said much of what is set down here, if not in these exact words, sequence, or necessarily on that occasion. I think at some point Jesus spoke to his followers about vines and branches and abiding in God. And these words still resonate for us:

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.

Jesus is about to take his leave of these beloved and frustrating disciples. He has said he is going to a place they cannot follow, but know the way. It’s a good time to talk about pruning and fruitfulness, as he is about to become for us the branch cut away, despite the manifold fruit he had borne in just three years, reflected in thousands of lives renewed, loves restored, sins forgiven and infirmity healed.

But Jesus is not referring to himself in this moment. He is the true vine, he says, and God will remove every branch in him that bears no fruit. That means the branches to which Jesus has given life. That means his apostles. And that means us.

This week’s Gospel passage is not long, but it is full with metaphor and meaning. Using the image of a vine and its branches, Jesus talks about how we are honed, and nurtured, and how to stay fruitful as servants of God, friends of God. Exploring this passage is a good opportunity for some spiritual inventory. So today let’s start by thinking about ourselves as branches connected to that True Vine.

How connected do we feel?
How fruitful do we feel we are?
How much in the way of nutrients is making its way to us?

Jesus needed to be sure his closest followers understood some things before the harrowing ordeals ahead, while he was still with them in flesh. Hence the Long Goodbye.

But for us, these words are a Big Hello, for our fruitfulness is ever before us. Let's receive them as such and greet the exploration ahead.

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