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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Easter 5: Abiding in the Vine



Easter 5

Reflection

I love John’s gospel.  From the sublime cosmic vision of the prologue, the richness of the ‘I am’ sayings, to the last chapter with that breakfast by the beach and the restoration of Peter to lead the church; the gospel is replete with memorable scenes, glowing images and rich symbolism; and yet … are we embarrassed to admit that there are passages when we feel our attention wander (come, get on with the story!) and our eyes start to glaze over as we just don’t get it, or haven’t we heard this before!  

This seems to happen in passages that are related to the farewell discourses where Jesus prepares the disciples for what is to happen.  The ‘teaching’ he gives is critical but it can sound a little repetitive or abstract.  When this happens, we need to stop – we are missing something.  We need to explore all the resources we can find.

In fact I am highlighting the different experience one has reading John – the fourth gospel feels so different from the more or less chronological narrative of the three synoptics.  It is alleged that this is because John’s gospel is late in the gospel tradition and accordingly presents a more developed understanding of Jesus.  A ‘high christology’ as it is called.  Well, maybe, but go back to the earliest NT documents, 1 Corinthians chapter 8, verse 6 … and see what Paul says:
6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
Now that is a radical statement.  In the same breath that Paul affirms orthodox Jewish monotheism, he radically includes Jesus within the being of God.  This is high Christology from the earliest days of Christianity.

Now what I have come to realise and, ever increasingly appreciate, is that this gospel is a profound revision of the heart of the Old Testament, a rewriting of the story of God and a sounding of the inner life of God, of the Trinity.  It is steeped in mystical and allusive symbolism.  We enter a contemplative way of thinking when we start to read it.  To illustrate this I quote from Bruno Barnhart’s work: The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center: he says:

The Word is a tree which was in the world in the beginning, and when humanity sinned at the tree and at the tower they were banished from that unitive tree of the Word.  But this light of the Word is their life, and without it they die.  The human person is a tree which bears the light, the Word, within itself.  Speaking, naming, witnessing, preaching, confessing, from Adam to the Baptist to Jesus to Thomas, this is the human vocation in the world: to give witness to the truth.  The man born blind, receiving his light from Jesus, witnessed to the light that now had been born within him.
  The fullness of this unitive tree is in Jesus, and now with his own disciples he pours out this fullness: the tree of the Word finds its fullest expression, comes into its roundness, bears its fruit. “Abide in me”: root yourselves in this central place, and remain rooted here, and my life will flow through you and bear fruit in the world.

Do you see what I mean? In just a few lines Barnhart pulls us and John’s Gospel back into Genesis and the Garden of Eden.  You remember John’s Prologue ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God’.  The connections are all here: Adam and Christ; the Tree of Life; Christ and Creator; … the new creation.  We start to find the connections that draw us into a unitive vision that enfolds us within time and eternity.

To abide in Christ as he invites us, is to be connected to the ground, the source, of all that is.  That is a process, a transformation, which begins in baptism  (and Barnhart largely reads the gospel as a way of understanding Christian life after baptism).  This is the mystery of the Trinity, the life of the Vine is the life of God, and this is the life that will be offered on the Cross; to inhabit and be inhabited by this life is to be changed and to be fruitful.

Jesus talks of pruning.  I love pruning in the garden … we understand the need of it; we see the benefits of it in the next season … but to be pruned by God, shaped and reshaped by the indwelling of the Spirit of God, that is what Jesus invites us to.


 


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