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Our gospel reading takes place as Jesus is leading His disciples from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane. He has just become their servant and washed their feet and instructed them to imitate His example and be a servant to one another. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Then, He brought an end to the Passover meal by replacing it with the Lord’s Supper. He ends the symbolic and begins the real thing. In the Supper, He binds Himself to them by giving them His body and blood in the bread and wine. And He tells them that every time that they eat this Supper, they are being bound to Him.
In giving them His body and blood, He is giving them Himself and all who He is. He is the Creator of all things and the Sustainer of all things. In Him the Godhead dwells bodily and He possesses all of the attributes of God. He is “unchangeable,” “almighty,” “omniscient,” “omnipresent,” “just,” “faithful,” “good,” “merciful,” “gracious,” and “love.”
This is who He is. And He binds Himself to His disciples and they are bound to Him in this HOLY COMMUNION.
Another way to describe this would like this, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” The PARABLE is about a vine and it’s branches. The interpretation of the parable is, the Vine is Christ and the branches are all who are bound to Christ in this HOLY COMMUNION.
For you and me, the branches, that Jesus Christ binds Himself to us means that He gives Himself to us and we receive all who He is. We receive His life, and with His life comes His grace and mercy and forgiveness for all of our sins, His love and care. He intercedes before the Father for us. He gives us the Holy Spirit whose work it is to keep us bound to Jesus.
We talk a lot about having ‘connections’ and having the ‘right connections.’ Think about what it means that the God / Man Jesus Christ connects Himself to us and us to Him. It means that we have access to the Father through the Son and we may “ask for whatever we wish and it will be done for you.” It means that we are intimately connected to His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithful and self control. It means that we are connected to His power, His power to work all things for good in our life, even the power to work raise us from the dead and unite our dead body to our living soul in the final restoration of all things.
For Jesus however, this means something entirely different. When we are bound to Jesus in this Holy Communion, He receives from us all that we are. And we are “by nature sinful and unclean, sinners in thought, word and deed.” As we are bound to Him He receives our life, and our life falls short of the glory of God. He receives our sin that makes us guilty before God our Creator. He receives our guilt, which must be punished before a just God. He receives our death, which is the result of our sin and guilt.
You see, the sap flows both ways between the vine and the branches. It never just flows one way. It’s a circulatory system. It flows from the vine to the branches and from the branches to the vine. “I am the true vine and you are the branches.”
This doesn’t seem like a very good thing for Jesus does it? And yet He is the One who establishes this HOLY COMMUNION and insists that you “Abide in Me.” Eight times in these eight verses He says, “Abide in me and I in you.”
We have nothing to give to Jesus in this HOLY COMMUNION except for our sin and guilt and death. Whether we realize it or not, this is what we mean when we say, ‘I gave my life to Jesus.’ It’s nothing to be proud of for sure.
But this is just what He insists on when He says, “Abide in Me.” Apart from Jesus Christ, you are cut off from the only outlet for your sin there is. Unless your sins flow into the Vine, they remain in you. And the fruit of sin is guilt and guilt will eat you up until you wither and die.
But He insists, “Abide in Me and I in you.” In the HOLY COMMUNION of the True Vine and its Branches, all of your sins flow into Him and He atones for it for you. All of your guilt flows into Him and He is punished for you. All of your death flows into Him and He dies for you.
And this, He says, is as it should be. The sap flows both ways. “Abide in Me and I in you.” Our sins flow into Him and His forgiveness and life flows into us. His holy blood flows into us and “cleanses us from all unrighteousness.”
His life flows into us and our death is swallowed up in His victory. What was withered is refreshed, streams of living water gushing through the desert, dry bones rehydrated, reconnected and raised up, a great army, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22).
“Abide in me and I in you.” To ABIDE does not mean to VISIT occasionally or even regularly. To ABIDE doesn’t mean to keep in touch and let me know if you need anything. To ABIDE means to make Him your ABODE. Where you ABIDE is where you live and move and have your being. Not just until you’re old enough to move out and get a place and a life of your own or until you’re confirmed.
This HOLY COMMUNION between the true Vine and the Branches takes place in two ways. Christ does not bind Himself to us in the same way that we are bound to Him.
Christ binds Himself to His Christians is His Word. His Word is His Word and when He gives us His Word there is no changing it or breaking it. His Word is INFALLIBLE. It does what it says. He said He would be handed over to death on the cross and rise again on the 3rd day and He did. His Word is trustworthy and true because He is God and God is trustworthy and true.
And so, He binds Himself to us by His Word that He binds to the water in Holy Baptism, that He binds to the preaching of the preacher, that He binds to the bread and wine in the Holy Supper. “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” (John 8:31)
To ABIDE in His Word is much more than simply reading your bible and knowing the Scriptures. You can know the Bible inside and out and still never ABIDE in the Word. You ABIDE in it when you believe it and find your hope and joy in it. Which is something that Jesus says only happens when we become like little children.
We on the other hand, are bound to Christ, not by our word. Our word is not INFALLIBLE. Our word does not do what it says. We say that we will love the Lord our God with all of our heart and soul and mind and our neighbor as ourselves, but we don’t.
The branches are bound to the Vine by FAITH. FAITH simply clings to His Word. “Apart from faith, there can be no “abiding in Him” because there is no “abiding in His Word.”
“Faith” is not our part in this HOLY COMMUNION. The “faith” that binds us to Jesus is a gift, lest anyone should boast. It sounds like circular reasoning I know, but “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom.10:17).
So Jesus says, “If you abide in Me and My word abide in you,” you will have the faith to ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.”
There is no question that in this HOLY COMMUNION, the branches are to “bear fruit” as Jesus puts it. “Bearing fruit” is the parable. The interpretation of “fruit” is a little harder to pin down than is the “True Vine” and the “branches.” Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t define it. And so we probably shouldn’t try to put too much definition to this either.
It’s easy to get carried away with defining what “fruit” is or what it should be. Trouble is, we tend to want to define it so that we can count it and measure our productivity. The trouble with focusing too much on the “fruit” is that we either sink into despair because we aren’t bearing enough fruit. Or we become puffed up with prideful because we we’re doing just fine, maybe even surpassing the goal.
Our problem is that we easily confuse Law and Gospel. We think that when Jesus says, “bear fruit,” that He’s giving us His Law, telling us what we must do, as though this were our part in this HOLY COMMUNION. And we think that it is only if we “bear fruit,” whatever that is and however much we’re supposed to bear, that then, we’ll “abide in Him and He in us.”
Which of course it to get the whole thing exactly backwards which leads to disaster. The Law here is, “Abide in Me and I in you.” “Let my Word abide in you. Let it create a living faith in you. Confess your sins to me and receive my Absolution. Confess your fears to me and receive my peace. Confess your guilt to me and receive my refreshment and freedom.”
The Gospel is, “bear fruit.” This is the promise that His Word accomplishes in us when we ABIDE IN HIM. “Whoever abides in me and I in him he it is that bears much fruit.”
Rather than fixing our eyes on the results, we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, and let His life produce His fruit through us in ways that we may never realize. And it’s probably best that we don’t. It’s for our own good that Jesus says, “do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
The “fruit” itself may not be at all spectacular or exciting in our eyes or they opinion of others. But God is pleased with the ‘fruit’ that our ABIDING IN HIM produces simply because it comes from the faith that we have received from Him in His HOLY COMMUNION with us.
So, whether its changing diapers or managing corporations, we do everything as branches connected to the True Vine. As we abide in Christ and He in us, we WILL bear much fruit. And it will be good fruit, the kind of fruit that God is pleased with.
“Abide in me.” That’s the command. “You will bear much fruit.” That’s the promise. God does not do His work on us from the outside in, by pressuring us to produce. He works on us from the inside out, pruning us here and there where it is necessary; changing us by the power of His Word.
As He changes us within, we begin to ask God for what He wants to give us and He gives us what we ask for. We ask for Jesus and His Word so that our faith in His Word may grow stronger and stronger. Apart from Him we can do nothing, but by Him we can do all things.
This is what Easter is all about. It’s not just the promise of living with Christ when we die, but the assurance that we live in HOLY COMMUNION with the risen Christ now. As He is eternal, He gives us eternal life and we start living it now.
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”