The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Grace Church, Charleston
May 3, 2015, 11:00 a.m.
I John 4:7-21
The recent story of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina – in large part – is one of connections. There is the pain of connections broken … and the hope for connections restored. There is the connection of the sacrifices of struggling churches with the bounty of flourishing churches. And, by the way, each of these – struggling churches and flourishing ones – have important stories to tell to the other. Also, there is the connection of our diocesan church to other dioceses, to The Episcopal Church at large, and to the Anglican Communion. We surely are blessed by the connections we have, even as we seek to strengthen them, to the benefit of all. Again, therefore, much of our current story involves connections.
In these terms, I think of a song that became popular within the Episcopal Cursillo movement, entitled “Weave.” Rosemary Crow wrote, “Weave, weave, weave us together; Weave us together in unity and love. Weave, weave, weave us together; Weave us together, together in love.” Then, the initial stanza emphasizes unity within diversity. “We are many textures, we are many colors; Each one different from the other; But we are entwined in one another, in one great tapestry. Weave, weave, weave us together.” It’s a catchy song that some of you may remember. And, it certainly emphasizes the theme of connections.
More profoundly, though, is the connection suggested by words of our Gospel reading. Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine” (Jn 15:1). And, we are branches on that vine. You see, such a connection is more basic than strands of fabric. Involved in Jesus’ analogy are living connections – like branches on a vine.
In this Gospel reference, God the Father is the one who cares for the vine. He prunes the vine when necessary, to encourage the development of more fruit. And the key here is the connection to the vine, even for life. We heard these words from Jesus this morning. “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” (15:5). Our connection to the vine, which is Jesus, enables nothing less than life itself.
This connection – this relationship – is the one we celebrate in baptism this morning. As we participate in the liturgy, please pay attention to this perspective. This morning a branch is grafted onto the vine which is Jesus. Precisely because of that connection, we are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ and we live in the power of his resurrection (BCP, p306). The connection is symbolized by the sign of the cross on the baptized one’s forehead, as we affirm these words: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever” (BCP, p308). In other words, “You now are a branch on the vine which is Christ.”
A certain bishop – in another diocese, years ago – became known for his use of today’s Gospel analogy. In fact, this bishop was not known to offer wonderful sermons. Perhaps that is an occupational deficiency! In response to this reputation, though, he did a creative thing. You see, this bishop was an avid gardener. So, each week, at sermon time, the bishop would bring out a rose bush. He proceeded to graft a branch onto the bush, as he spoke of the Christian being grafted onto Christ’s body, the Church. Now, the occasion generally was confirmation, rather than baptism, but the message applies nevertheless. As branches, we depend on the vine – or the bush – for nourishment and for life. Without that connection we wither and die. By the way, in that diocese, rose bushes were planted in many church yards. Those rose bushes serve as visible reminders that we depend on our connection to Christ, even for life.
In summary, then, thanks be to God today for the connections that weave us together and, even more so, for connections that graft us onto the vine which gives us life. For the connections of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina – both within our diocese and beyond – we are grateful. For the connections of baptism – within the body of Christ and for the sake of God’s world – we give thanks. And for life itself – made possible by connections to Christ himself, who is the true vine – we offer thanks and praise to God, this day and always. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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