I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty. (John 15:5)
We used to have a vine. When we lived in Oxford - in very built up Cowley, not far from the University Press and the Car Factory - our house was bordered by an old stone wall, which clearly used to be part of a farm. And by the wall - probably long after the farm was ‘regenerated’ (as we now say) - some imaginative soul had planted a vine. And the vine had grown up the wall, and across the wall, and had wrapped itself over the wall, hugged the round top like fingers extending their grip. From a root which could hardly be seen it has hugged the wall and extended in all directions. And we got grapes. In a warm summer you could just about eat them, though usually they were a little bitter. More often, one of the parishioners collected them to make wine. I don’t know if she put them in a Vat and trod on them - and sadly I never got to taste the wine.
Then one stormy spring, in very strong winds, the wine was swept off the wall, thrown over back onto the edge of our driveway, and lay rather forlorn on the ground. Try as we might it was too big and too extensive just to lift back over the wall. It didn’t die, but that summer at least it was a sad reminder of its former glory, and bore no fruit.
And Jesus compares himself, and us, in his Church, to a vine.
Like a vine the Church draws life from a single root, and that is Christ. Separated from the vine, the branches die: drawing life from him, they thrive. We may think that we can go our own way, pick and choose what we believe and how we live, but separated from Christ we will certainly not thrive.
Like the vine the Church has spread in many different directions. Strong and vibrant in some places, thin and sparse in others. Some strong branches may bear little fruit, while newer and flimsier ones are more abundant. The vine sometimes veers off in unexpected directions. It is not always neat - but it is always connected to the root.
Like the vine the Church bears a fruit. Not always easily palatable at first taste, but with tending and understanding, it makes a very fine wine. And the wine, the fermented fruit, brings life from the tree.
And like the vine the Church needs tending. Life comes from Christ, but fruitfulness comes from our co-operation with him. A vine which is not cared for will wither. It may survive, but it may not be fruitful. A vine that is tended, and nourished and cared for will produce good fruit and excellent wine. So too the Church needs our commitment, our love, our obedience and our service - and if we do not give it, while it may not die, we may find it hard to draw life from it when we really need it.