Writing or posting anything for the past week has been slow, and this weekend leaves me again with little time for writing, or researching the readings as much as I would have liked to. The one topic that struck me throughout the week was how the Apostles challenged so many in proclaiming Christ. There proclaiming Jesus to the Jews was met many times with hostility, many of that culture were unwilling to share their God of the covenant. The Apostles proclaimed the same message to the Gentiles and one has to ponder their bravery for proclaiming their Savior to the Romans as that was boldly going against the Empires Gods, one of whom was Caesar. In today’s reading there is the issue with Paul, the ruthless opponent of Christians who eventually becomes the Apostle of the Gentiles. The conflict of Paul is so indicative of the conflicts and successes those early Apostles of the Church faced as the new Christian Church broke ground in those fields where Jesus preached.
The readings from Acts speak of the growing Church in Judea, Samaria, and in Galilee. AS the Church formed in these lands they were either embraced and grew, or were violently persecuted. Breaking ground is a violent process. Normally when one talks of a church breaking ground, they speak of a building, here the Church breaking ground is that mystical body of Christ that gathered first around the Lord, and now congregate about the Apostles and disciples. It is the fruit of Christ’s teachings, and the labors of those early Christians that aid this Church in emerging from the background cultures. In thinking of the Church breaking ground as a building, it would not be much of an exaggeration to also think of that church as a new birth either. Birth employs many of the same terms. Labor being the most obvious, and there is that way of describing a child’s birth as being brought into the light. A child is also born of two parents, yet an individual with their own identity. The readings from Acts of the Apostles throughout the week have highlighted the labor pains in the birth of that new Church.
In Sunday’s gospel readings Jesus declares I am the vine and you are the branches. In those readings of the Acts of the Apostles, one again can imagine that emerging Church as that vine of Christ emerging from that soil as so many do in the springtime. That I must admit is very much an Easter image. Life emerging from the death of winter. That is vividly evident on this spring day as plants begin to pop from the ground and the leaves of the trees just barely begin to sprout leaves. That vine also can be thought of as the architecture of a Church, with that vine beginning at the altar and the branches the radiating lines of the pews. Christ in Hs preaching must have walked among many of the vineyards of the region, as the grape vine was the earliest symbol of Gods chosen people. He knew of the root of the vine that remained hidden from view, as God was hidden from His people. He declared himself the vine as the one who brings His Father to the light, and He claims his disciples the branches. Jesus was familiar with those branches of a grapevine laden with fruit, but that fruit was only abundant after much violent pruning. Christ reminds his disciples (and that includes us)” You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” Pruning grape vines is not a minor process, it does involve removing large sections of the plant to bring about an abundant harvest. That pruning is evident throughout the history of Christ’s Church. It is evident as Christ preaches against the resistance of the Pharisees, it is also evident throughout the Acts of the Apostles as that early Church begins to emerge. The pruning continues today as His Church confronts a modern society and its varied issues. It is that pruning that defines the vine, a grape vine is most recognizable by its fruit. A Christian Church is most recognized by the fruit of Christ’s teachings. Jesus Christ reminds us, that Church, that in order to bear fruit we (those branches) must remain on that vine. Something to remember as so many try to redefine what Christ’s Church is.
The final thought is that in these readings Christ declares “ I am the vine, you are the branches” and that vine is one title of Christ and at least to this reader that title hints strongest as reference to His Church, including past through the future. Vines after all are firmly rooted in the earth, interesting considering Jesus declared Peter the rock on which he would build His Church. Interesting to also is that vines nourish grapes which become wine, suggestive of joyous moments. That is the good news of Jesus Christ.