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Weekly worship: Sunday 29 April

Fifth Sunday of Easter: Abide in the vine

Crops in Malawi

Acts 8:26-40 1 John 4:7-21 John 15:1-8

This week, we're reflecting on:

  • The symbolism of the vine
  • The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch
  • Jesus' vine analogy - a deeper dive
  • What it means to belong to the vine and 'bear fruit'
  • A suggestion for demonstrating love as we abide in Christ

 

The symbolism of the vine

In the Hebrew scriptures, Israel is often depicted as a vine. We know that Jesus taught in the synagogue (Luke 4, for example), so it's almost certain that he'd have been familiar with this image.

It would be wrong to push the allusion too far, but for a nomadic people, the idea of ‘belonging’ to the vine is central to national and religious identity. God is the vine-grower. Israel is the vine.

More often than not, though, the vine is not a good vine. In Psalm 80, for example, the vine has broken out of the vineyard, so its fruit is being taken by passers-by. In Ezekiel 15, the vine is so unproductive that it is being turned into firewood.

In Isaiah 53, the young plant is not specifically described as a vine, but it has been rejected and uprooted. This is the passage which the Ethiopian eunuch is reading in Acts 8. And it's in opening up the historical understanding of scripture that Philip is able to convince him of Christ’s love.

 

Philip and the eunuch

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch has provoked much controversy over the years.

Today, scholars such as John J McNeil suggest that the term 'eunuch' is used in the New Testament to mean anyone with minority sexualities.

Certainly, as a gentile foreigner and a representative of the oppressive ruling class, he is already an outcast.

Philip draws on Jesus' own use of the traditional image of the vine. In John 15, Jesus takes this traditional image and turns it around. God is still the vine-grower but, as Jesus tells it, it's no longer the nation of Israel which is the vine, but rather it's Jesus himself. I am the true vine and my Father is the vine-grower.

 

Going deeper into Jesus' vine analogy

In Jesus detailed analogy, God is a proactive cultivator; God prunes so that the vine may bear fruit. The fruitful branches are firmly attached to the vine.

We, Jesus' followers, have already been cleansed by his word. We are firmly attached to the vine because we have responded to his word. In this belonging, we will bear much fruit.

 

What does it mean to belong to the vine and 'bear fruit'?

John 15 doesn't go into details as to what the fruit we will bear might be, but 1 John 4 begins to outline what belonging to the vine of Jesus might look like.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. Those who abide in Christ will love one another.

 

How do we show that love?

One practical way to demonstrate love is by offering to help.

It can sometimes be rather lonely to act as a Christian Aid coordinator in the run-up to Christian Aid Week. How about demonstrating love for your Christian Aid coordinator by approaching them, and volunteering to help out?

The central message of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, though, is one of radical inclusion. Christ’s love nourishes all irrespective of gender, class, ethnicity or sexuality. He is indeed the true, life-giving, vine.

Pray

True vine,

Be the sap and source

of all that sustains us.

Abiding in you,

may we bear much fruit,

Fruit that will last.

Amen.

Pointers for prayer

Pray for:

  • all those who are remembering, with grief, the third anniversary of the earthquake in Nepal
  • the Christian Aid partners who are continuing to work with Nepalese communities as they rebuild their lives
  • Christian Aid organisers across the country in these weeks leading up to Christian Aid Week; pray that they get all the help and support they need

We are grateful to Tim Presswood, member of Christian Aid’s worship and theology collective, Baptist regional minister for the North West of England, and one of the duo behind dancingscarecrow.org.uk.