5th Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 9:26–31; 1 John 3:18–24; John 15:1–8


john15_5Keeping in Touch
We stay united to Jesus and give visibility to his presence when we gather as Church.

The lunar module Eagle, carrying astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong, landed on the moon July 20, 1969.
While Armstrong prepared for his moon walk, Aldrin unpacked bread and wine and put them on the abort guidance system computer. He describes what he did next.

“I poured the wine into the chalice. . . . In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon and the very first food eaten there were communion elements.”

Just before eating and drinking the elements, Aldrin read this passage from the Gospel according to John:

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” John 15:5

Commenting on his Communion experience alone on the moon, Aldrin says, “I sense especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and the Church everywhere.” Guideposts Treasury of Hope
That story not only gives special meaning to today’s gospel but also underscores the way we, the branches, remain united with Jesus, the vine.

We remain united to Jesus
by three way in particular:
by gathering in his name,
by listening to his word, and by sharing his Body and Blood.

Concerning gather in his name, Jesus told his disciples, “For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:20
When we gather in Jesus’ name, we have his promise that he’s there with us.

Concerning reading and explaining his word, Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me . . .”
Luke 10:16 When we hear the Gospel read and explained,
we have Jesus’ promise that we listen to him.

Finally, concerning eating and drinking his Body and Blood, Jesus told his disciples, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them. John 6:56
When we share the Lord’s Supper, we have Jesus’ promise that he’s united with us.

These are the three special ways, then,
by which we remain united to Jesus:
by gathering in his name,
by listening to his word, and by sharing his Body and Blood.
This leads us to an important point: If we want to find Jesus today, we will find him in his Church, or we won’t find him at all.

Sometimes we hear people say, “I can find Jesus and unite myself to him in my own way. I don’t need the Church.”

When we hear this, we want to cry out, “But there is no Jesus apart from the Church. There is no Jesus like the one you are talking about. That Jesus died on Calvary 2,000 years ago.”

The only Jesus there is today is the Jesus who rose on Easter Sunday. And this Jesus lives in his Church, or he doesn’t live at all. As evidence of this, recall Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, before his conversion.

Listen to how the Acts of the Apostles describes it:

“[s]uddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

“ ‘Who are you, Lord, he asked. “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you persecute,’ the voice said.” Acts of the Apostles 9:3–5

Paul was confused. He hadn’t persecuted Jesus. He had persecuted only his followers.

Then it dawned on Paul. Jesus and his followers were one.
They were like a head and a body. Trying to separate Jesus from his followers was like trying to separate a head from its body.

Years later Paul wrote: “[Jesus] is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body’s life.” Colossians 1:18

This leads us to a final point: If people today are to find Jesus, we, the Church, must make him visible to them.

A teacher used to say to his students, “what if some unthinkable explosion destroyed all life on earth except for us,
right here in this room. Where would the Church of Jesus be then?”

The students would always think a minute. Then they would see the light.

The Church of Jesus would be right there in their room.
They would be the Church.

That little experiment makes an important point.

The Church is not a place where people gather.
It’s the people who gather.
The Church is not a place where people gather to pray.
It’s the people who gather to pray.

But note what we said! The Church is the people who gather.
To have Church we must gather together.

The Church is like the bread and wine that we use in the Eucharist. Hundreds of grains of wheat and hundreds of grapes had to be gathered to make them.

It is the same with us.

Only by gathering together do we become the Church of Jesus.
Only by gathering together do we make Jesus’ Church visible to our world.
Only by gathering together
do we make the risen Jesus visible to our age.

And so by gathering together we give visibility to Jesus and his Church. Each time we gather, we show people where they can find the risen Jesus in today’s world.

This is one of the reasons Jesus said to his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. . . .

“In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14, 16

Lord, you are the vine and we are your branches. As the branches draw life from the vine, so we draw life from you.

Lord, help us remain united to you always, by gathering in your name, by hearing your word, and by sharing your Body and Blood. For in this way we make you visible to our world.

Lord, help us remember always that where your Church is, there you are.


Series II
5th Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 9:26–31; 1 John 3:18–24; John 15:1–8


The Vine
Only by remaining united to Jesus can we survive and bear fruit.

If I held up a picture of Uncle Sam and asked what country he symbolized, everyone here would say the United States.

If I held up a picture of a hammer and a sickle and asked what country it symbolized, everyone here would say Russia.

If I held up a picture of a maple leaf and asked what country it symbolized, many of you would say Canada.

But if I held up a picture of a grapevine and asked what country it symbolized, many of you would not know.

If you happened to be a collector of old coins, you might know, because the country once stamped a grapevine on all of its coins.

If you happened to be an archaeologist or a student of archaeology, you might know, because the country often used the grapevine to decorate its buildings.

Finally, if you happened to be a biblical scholar or a student of the Bible, you might know, because the Bible often used the grapevine to symbolize the country.
And that country, as you have probably guessed by now, is Israel—God’s Chosen People.

Consider just two examples of how the Bible used the vine to symbolize Israel.

In the Book of Psalms, the psalmist prays to God in these words concerning Israel:

LORD God Almighty, You brought a grapevine out of Egypt. . . .
You cleared a place for it to grow; its roots went deep, and it spread out over the whole land. Psalm 80:5, 9–10

And in the Book of Isaiah, the prophet says:

Israel is the vineyard of the LORD Almighty; the people of Judah are the vines he planted. Isaiah 5:7

And so the grapevine became the symbol of ancient Israel.

As time passed, however, the vine that God planted in the land of Israel turned bad. The people turned away from God.

This caused God to say of Israel through the prophet Isaiah, “Then why did it produce sour grapes and not the good grapes I expected?” Isaiah 5:4

Likewise, this caused God to say of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah, “I planted you like a choice vine . . . . But look what you have become! You are a rotten, worthless vine.” Jeremiah 2:21
How could you turn out to be a false vine?
It’s against this background that we must read Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading. Jesus says:

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit.” John 15:5

Concretely, what is Jesus saying to the people of his time
through this passage? He’s saying this:

“I am the new vine, the true vine, that God has planted in the vineyard of Israel. If you unite yourself to me, you will bear the fruit God intended you to bear when he chose you to be his special people.’’

Concretely, what is Jesus saying to us in modern times through this passage? He’s saying this:

If you are to become the person that God intended you to become, you must remain united to me. If you do not remain united to me, there is no hope for you. Your life will end in spiritual tragedy.

Let me illustrate by a concrete example what Jesus is saying to us.

There’s a story about two friends who grew up together. They were inseparable. When you saw the one, you saw the other. Everybody liked them.

What no one realized, however, was that one had a strong character, while the other had a weak character. As long as they were together, the one with the weak character was all right.

After high school the two friends went to different colleges.
It was only a matter of time before the weaker friend fell into temptation and made a wreck of his life. His family despaired and lost hope for him.

When the stronger friend heard what happened, he went to his former buddy. He rescued him from his situation and brought him back to where he was before.

It was then that the weaker friend realized that his future salvation rested on maintaining contact with his stronger friend and drawing inspiration and strength from him.

That’s something of the way it is with Jesus and each one of us. And that’s precisely what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel. United to him we can do anything. Separated from him we can do nothing.

And so today’s gospel is telling us two important things.

First, it is telling us that Jesus is the new and the true vine that God has planted in the vineyard of Israel.

Second, it is telling us that only by uniting ourselves to Jesus will we bear fruit and grow into the persons God made us to be.
Let’s close with a story that illustrates this final point in a clear, dramatic way.

There’s a movie called Shadow of the Hawk. In it a young couple and an Indian guide are making their way up a mountainside, fleeing from evil people.

At one point the young woman slumps to the ground and says, “I can’t take another step.’’

The young man lifts her to her feet and says, “But, darling, we must go on. We have no other choice!’’ She shakes her head and says, “I can’t go on! I can’t go on!’’

Then the Indian guide says to the young man, “Hold her close to your heart. Let your strength and your courage flow out of your body into hers.’’

The young man does this, and in a few minutes the woman smiles and says, “Now I can go on! Now I can do it!’’

This is the same kind of role that Jesus wants to play in our own lives. He wants to share with us not only his own strength and his own courage but also his very life.

United to Jesus we can do anything. Separated from him we can do nothing.



Series III
5th Sunday of Easter

Acts of the Apostles 9:26, 1 John 3:18–24, John 15:1–8

Christian calling
Remain united to me and bear much fruit.

Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” John 15:5

Kim Chi Ha is a South Korean poet. In the 1980s he was sentenced to life in prison by a repressive Korean regime.

And what was his crime? It was writing a series of poems protesting Korea’s treatment of the poor.

In the midst of his ordeal, Kim Chi Ha never lost his Christian joy or his sense of humor. When an angry judge added seven years to his life sentence, he joked to his mother, “I must stay in prison seven more years after I die.”

Kim’s mother supports her son totally, saying: “Jesus was always for the poor. As his followers, we, too, must be for the poor and oppressed.”

Kim wrote a play entitled The Gold-Crowned Jesus.

In it, a leper discovers the risen Jesus sick and suffering in a state prison. When the leper recovers from shock, he asks Jesus:

“Why do you stay in prison? Why don’t you use your divine power to free yourself and destroy evil in the world?”

Jesus surprises him, saying:

“My power alone can neither free myself nor destroy evil in the world. There is only one way I can do these things: It is people like you. With people like you, I can do all things. Without people like you, I can do nothing.”

These words of Jesus remind us that when he walked about on earth, he taught and healed people through the members of his earthly body. He taught and healed people through his own flesh-and-blood hands, arms, mouth.

But in these modern times, Jesus teaches and heals not through the members of his physical body, but through
the members of his mystical body, the Church. We are the hands, arms, and mouth of Jesus’ mystical body.

This prompted Saint Teresa of Avila to say to the Christians of her time:

Yours are the only hands with which Jesus can do his work. . . Yours are the only eyes through which the compassion of Jesus can shine upon a troubled world.

The words of Jesus in Kim’s play and the words of Saint Teresa of Avila fit in beautifully with today’s Gospel.
There Jesus tells us:

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me. . . . “My Father’s glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and this is the way you become my disciples.”
John 15:5, 8

This raises the critical question: How do we remain in union with Jesus in order that we may bear much fruit?

We do this in three ways, especially.
First, we do it by gathering each Sunday in his name, as we are doing now.
Second, we do it by listening to his word, as we are doing right now.
Third, we do it by receiving his Body and Blood, as we will do in a few minutes.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these three ways.

Take the first way: gathering in his name. Jesus told his disciples, “Where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:20

Take the first way: gathering in his name. Jesus told his disciples, “Where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:20

When we hear the Gospel read and explained, we have Jesus’ promise that we listen to him, inspiring and enlightening us. He told his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.”
Luke 10:16

Finally, concerning eating and drinking his Body and Blood, Jesus said:

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in him.” John 6:56

When we do this, we have Jesus’ promise that he is with us, sharing with us his very life.

This brings us back to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel:

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” John 15:5

In effect, Jesus is saying that if we want to become the kind of person his Father intended us to become, we must remain united to him. An example will illustrate.

The movie La Dolce Vita opens with a statue of Jesus being towed across the Italian sky by a helicopter. Behind it is a second helicopter carrying a writer named Marcello. Marcello grew up in a religious family in a small Italian village. As a young man he moved to the city, where he abandoned his faith. Instead of finding fulfillment, however, he found only emptiness.

The movie ends with Marcello standing on a beach, looking down at a decaying fish and studying it. Cut off from the sea, the fish has died. The message for Marcello is clear: He is dying also. He is dying the worst kind of death, a spiritual death, cut off from Jesus.

And that brings us back to each one of us here.

Unless we remain united to Jesus, we are also doomed to die,
like the fish, cut off from the sea. We are doomed to die,
like Marcello, cut off from Jesus. We are doomed to die,
like a branch, cut off from the vine.

And the chief way we remain united to Jesus is by doing what we are doing now.

First, by gathering each Sunday in his name, as we are doing now.
Second, we do it by listening to his word, as we are doing right now.
Third, we do it by receiving his Body and Blood, as we will do in a few minutes.

If we do this, we will fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Jesus put it this way: “My Father’s glory is shown
by your bearing much fruit.” John 15:8

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