5th Sunday of Easter 2012:
Our seminarian Matt received a care package the other day from a school in the diocese. Inside this package there were some handmade cards from the school children. One of these cards had a line dividing the front in two. On one half of the card there was a beautiful grape vine that was lush and green with leaves and large clusters of grapes. The other side was not so good, it was drawn with a gray marker, there was no green, no leaves, and no grapes. There was a caption on both sides. On the left side it said: with God and prayerJ. The right side says without God and following the devilL. What wisdom from this little kid!
Did you ever stop to think about the Christian message? In the popular presentation of the faith emphasis is always placed on difficult truths of the faith, and there are many: Christianity is a life of sacrifice, suffering, and difficulty at times. We would never deny this! Christianity is a life of imitation of Jesus, who sacrificed himself for the good of the world. Christians therefore must deny themselves, take up the cross and follow after Christ. If anyone tries to sell another kind of Christianity, beware! There can be no Christianity without the Cross. But if we simply acknowledge the difficulties of Christianity we might forget why we carry these crosses in the first place. Jesus says today in the gospel: whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. This is the simple truth of Christianity: without Christ we can do nothing, without him there is no joy, no hope, no blessedness. Without Christ we are dead branches, there is no fruit without Christ. But with him there is joy, love, peace, communion. Sure, Christianity includes sacrifice, self-denial, suffering, and the cross. But, as St. Paul said, we must consider these things as nothing when we behold the glory that awaits. Truly, following God means life and fruitfulness, not following God and being with the devil means death and barrenness.
St. John tells us what this looks like in the 2nd reading: Children let us love not in word and speech, but in deed and truth. Wow, that really tells it like it is: if we want to be at peace, if we want to have joy and fruitfulness, if we want a life of Christian happiness, the path is one of love, not simply in what we say, but in how we live.
Now this might be a bit daunting: this gets us back to that cross: if it were easy to love in deed and in truth we wouldn't need this command would we? But, it can be difficult to love, to lay our lives down for others, to sacrifice and to overcome temptation. We know our sins make us miserable, we know that following God makes us healthy and happy; but, how do we overcome those sins?
Think again about the vine analogy. Jesus is the vine we are the branches. When we stay connected with Jesus his life flows through us, and when his life flows through us so does his strength and goodness. When the love of Christ flows through us we become loving, when the goodness of Christ flows through us we become good and holy. If we are not attached to Christ we wither and die, but attached to him we grow and thrive. This happens for me no more powerfully than in this Holy Eucharist. When we receive Communion the life of Christ flows into us. We are no more fully united to Jesus than here at this altar. Here we are in the presence of Christ, we are in the presence of the vine and we find in him life, goodness, truth, strength, and joy. Christianity includes sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial, but there is no other way to peace, joy, life, and fruitfulness. Indeed there are only 2 choices: being with God, which gives us life and joy; not following God and being with the devil which causes us pain, sadness, barrenness and leads to emptiness and death. When considered in this way, there is only one choice: whoever remains in me and I in you will bear much fruit, because without me, Jesus says, you can do nothing.