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Fifth Sunday after Easter

[Keep a moment of silence, calling to mind that, though we are unable to gather together, we share fellowship as a Church family as we offer this short act worship in our own homes]

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus said, “I am the Vine and you are the branches.” [John 15.5]

Collect

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant that, as by your grace going before us you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect; through Jesus Christ our risen Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Gospel Reading: John 15.1-8 

A reading from the Gospel according to St John

Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’

Reflection 

St John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus often drew from the rich heritage of faith of the Jewish people in his teaching ministry and in the claims that he made. Last week we looked at the Old Testament picture of God as Shepherd of his flock, the people of Israel. We reflected on how our Lord took that image and applied it to himself in one of the seven great ‘I AM’ sayings, ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’

This week we look at the picture of God’s people as the vine or vineyard. The vine was an important part of everyday life in the Holy Land of Jesus’ day. It provided grapes to eat and wine to drink but it was also extremely labour intensive. It had to be constantly pruned and branches that did not bear fruit had to be cut off to prevent them from sapping the energy from the rest of the vine. The vine-grower had to be ruthless with his secateurs if he wanted to produce the finest and sweetest grapes. Once established the vine also gave welcome shade from the heat of the day and, to sit under its shade was a popular Old Testament image of peace and stability.

Time and again the great prophets likened God’s chosen people to a vine. Isaiah proclaimed that, ‘the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel’ [Isaiah 5.1-7]. Hosea went further, describing the nation as a ‘luxuriant vine’. When the Psalmist celebrated the story of the Exodus he wrote, ‘You brought a vine out of Egypt.’ [Psalm 80.8]

The vine was such an important part of the Old Testament story that it became a symbol of Israel itself. The Maccabees used it as an emblem on their coins and the famous golden doors to the holy place of the temple were moulded into a vine.

Yet, when the prophets likened Israel to a vineyard they also spoke of the nation in negative terms. Isaiah compared the people to a vine that had ‘run wild’. Jeremiah complained that they had become ‘a degenerate plant of a rotten vine.’ [Jeremiah 2.21] The faithful men and women often called the people back to their unique role as the vineyard of God.

It’s this image that Jesus used as he spoke to his followers in the upper room on the evening before the events of Good Friday. There he made another great divine claim, ‘I am the vine and my Father is the vine dresser,’ later developing it to ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ The Gospel writer tells us that he used the imagery to describe his unique calling and our ministry too.

In claiming to be the vineyard of the Lord the religious people of the day thought that they were saved by their very birthright. Jesus challenged this assumption and told his followers that salvation would only come when faithful men and women abide in him.

From the very beginning of his Gospel St John portrays Jesus as ’the Word made flesh,’ God with us. He proclaims that he was and is the very incarnation of the creative, life giving and divine power at work in the world. In today’s reading he also tells us that we can only truly know fullness of life when we bear fruit and become the branches that abide in him, the true vine. It ends with Jesus affirming that when we do this we will glorify the Father.

Through its long history the Church has grown when the followers of Jesus reveal his love in the world, for each other and for their neighbour in need. It’s why the great St Francis of Assisi is reputed to have said to his followers, ‘Go and preach the Gospel, use words only if you have to.’ The best witness to Christ the true vine is when others see his love at work in and through us. It’s why this part of Jesus’ farewell words to his followers in the upper room ends with the call to love, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ [John 15.12] 

As the world continues to respond to the very significant challenges of this long pandemic and to the worrying situation in the Indian subcontinent history will judge us a nation, not just by how quickly we were taken into lockdown, or how we supported the health service and the economy or rolled out the vaccination programme; we will be judged by how generous we have been to our brothers and sisters around the world who do not enjoy the resources we have in the UK. In other words, we will be remembered for our fruits or lack of them!

Prayers 

God our Father, may your Church, here and throughout the world, be constant in faith and love so that it will bear fruit to your glory. Give unity to all the branches of the Church in the strength of Christ, the true vine. Bless John our bishop and his family as he retires today, guider all who minister in your name to be faithful witnesses of the Gospel.

            Lord, hear us...

Father, we bring before you our concerns for the world; that this and all nations may be led in the ways of truth, peace and justice. We pray especially today for the peoples of India, as they respond to the deepening Covid 19 crisis there; inspire the leaders of the nations to be generous in their response to their neighbours in need. Bless the work of the World Health Organisation and VaccineAid as they rollout vaccines in India and in the developing world.

            Lord, hear us...

Father, bless those who are new to Christian faith or preparing to commit their lives to Christ at this time. Give us wisdom and love to be always ready to help and nurture them by our words and example.

            Lord, in your mercy...

Father, as our nation prepares to elect a new Welsh Senedd this week we bring before you the candidates who are standing for the various parties. Guide the people of this land to use their vote wisely, that we may elect a government that will work for the good of all.

            Lord, hear us...

Father, we pray for your healing on those who are sick, your strength for those who are tired and your love for those who live with anxiety, that they may know your healing love. 

            Lord, hear us...

Father, we thank you for those who bore the fruits of your love, peace and salvation in their lives and are now at rest. We remember before you  our departed loved ones and friends who rejoice with us now in the fellowship of the saints.

            Lord, hear us...

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer for those unable to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion]

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits you have given me, for your holy birth, for all the pains and insults you have borne for me. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I ask you to come spiritually into my heart. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.

[after the Prayer of St Richard of Chichester]

 

[Keep a moment of silence for spiritual communion with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters]

Go forth and tell! O church of God, arise!
go in the strength which Christ your Lord supplies;
go till all nations his great name adore
and serve him, Lord and king for evermore

James Seddon (1915 - 1983)

May Christ, who out of defeat brings new hope and a new future, so fill us with his new life that we may be fruitful branches of the true vine; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.

 

Bible Readings: New Revised Standard Version [1989] - Word of the Lord: Church in Wales - CCL Parish Copyright Licence:  753662


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