Jesus the True Vine: John 15:1-5 (RNSV)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."
Fall is my favorite season. There are the obvious reasons: warm, sunny, DRY days, cool nights that invite cozy blankets and sweaters, enjoying the bountiful produce, and delicious soups and stews. However, there is always a little tinge of sadness around the edges of fall. Because it is also the season of pruning. We are cutting back those perennials, and bushes that we nurtured in the spring and summer. We enjoy those colorful leaves and stunning vistas that mark fall. And yet, we watch them fall… we prune, and wait for the inevitable first snows.
It is a transitional season, evoking joy along with a bit of lament. A liminal time when we linger in the warmth of the sun, hold on to the dwindling evening light, and anticipate the coming coldness, and early darkness. However, pruning is not a death sentence. Indeed, the roots of our plants and trees need to shift 80% of their nutrients to the roots, to survive winter, and thrive once again. The appearance of the barren trees and missing plants of winter is deceptive. They are indeed alive! The roots are alive, and keeping watch and protecting the plant for the inevitable Spring where life becomes evident once again.
In John 15 we are reminded of this truth: pruning is required for continued life and growth. What may appear on the outside as the withering of the vine, is in fact a process of nurturing more life, more fruit from the plant. When I think of the life of Northeastern and the 25 years of planting, nurturing, and yes, at times pruning for more growth, I think of those who have been faithful to abide in Christ’s call to serve and nurture others. We are in a time of transition, perhaps, like fall, needing to have courage to transition, in order to ensure that the roots are healthy, and support new growth. In faith, we trust and abide in God’s mission to train women and men for ministry, knowing that change may create losses, however, also resting in the assurance that as we abide in Christ, we are strong, because we are rooted in the One who is our strength, our very root of life.
I think this is what it means in verse 11: “ I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Truly, our abiding in Christ, and Christ within us is the root and source of all of our life of joy at Northeastern these past 25 years. May we continue to be faithful in our planting, and our pruning.