Prayers of Approach
We gather here, O Lord, for you, the vine, to nourish us. May we, the branches, draw our strength from you, and grow in harmony, unity and love. May we find nourishment through our rootedness in the life, teachings and love of Christ. Receive the fruits of our worship and be glorified. Amen.
Eternal God, we come as one and we come together, to draw from the source of your life-giving love, to reconnect with one another and with you, to listen to your word, to meet you in prayer and praise, and to learn and grow as your faithful disciples – in Jesus’ name. Amen.
True God, true vine, strength of all our being, giver of all good gifts, healer of all that is broken: we worship you; we glorify you; we rejoice in you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Music: Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it (R&S 268)
Readings: 1 John 4:7-21
Jesus says that he is ‘the true vine’. His Father is the vine-grower who removes fruitless branches and prunes those that are fruitful so that they might produce even more. The disciples are the branches; they are to remain part of the vine and expected to grow and bear good fruit.
How do we ‘remain’ in Jesus? How do we stay always connected to Jesus? The metaphor of a growing vine suggests something that is active – a way of living, rather than a passive ‘resting’. What does this look like in practice?
The reading from 1 John perhaps gives us some hints. It is one of the greatest passage in the Bible on love: the love of God for the world, shown through his Son, is a love we should also show for each other. This is how we come to know God, and to know that God is love.
Music: Jesus the Lord said, ‘I am the bread’ (R&S 199)
Jesus was a great story teller and illustrator and used many examples from daily life, of things that people would have been very familiar with, to help them to understand his message. Some of them were traditional images or metaphors for God and his love and concern for his people, representations of the nation of Israel itself and their relationship with God, which could be found over and over again in the Psalms and the writings of the Prophets. Probably the most common of these were God (or Israel’s leaders) as shepherd and the people or nation of Israel as the sheep. Analogies with viticulture, grapes, vineyards, vineyard workers, owners, tenants, and cultivators of vines or fig trees, however were also widely used.
Jesus description of himself as the vine and his Father as the gardener sets him well within the tradition of Israel’s and Jewish prophetic teaching but takes the metaphor further and gives a new, more immediate, twist to the accepted images. The extension of the metaphor to vine and branches, and to cutting out the dead (fruitless) branches and pruning others so that they bear more fruit, gives a new emphasis to our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. And the word which Jesus uses to describe this relationship carries a wealth of meaning – abide, remain, stay – become part of this new community of love and live in Christ, being sustained and nourished by his life.
The picture Jesus paints still evokes resonances with us today, and over the past year many of us have taken much more notice of the plants in our gardens. Most of us probably don’t have grape vines in our gardens but many of us do have roses and are familiar with pruning them back at the end of the year, or early the next year, so that they will produce new shoots to bear more flowers, and we know all about ‘dead heading’ lots of other plants as well so that they will produce more blooms. I have to admit that this is something I am not very good at. Plants in the wild don’t get pruned, dead headed, or cut back and they spread, self-seed and come back okay each year, don’t they? Or do they? Wild animals and birds play their part in ‘natural’ pruning by grazing, browsing and nipping off buds and flowers. And the one bush in my garden that has been cut back this year (because it was growing out into the drive and I had to drive through it every time I took the car out) is now looking much better and healthier.
The old saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ certainly seems to hold true when it comes to pruning but how well does it hold up in everyday life? The metaphor of a growing vine has been tested strongly over the past year and the importance of remaining connected has been one of the lessons to emerge most vividly from the various stages of the Coronovirus pandemic. As we were urged, and even at times, required to stay at home, to ‘protect the NHS’ and to ‘save lives’ we had to find new ways to remain connected. So as a church how do we ‘stay home’ (abide, remain) with God? Jesus’ aim is that we ‘grow and bear fruit’ but he says this is not possible unless we remain connected with him and with each other, like branches on a vine. To do this we had to find new ways to be and to worship together, using technology old or new, or by simply looking out for our neighbours, standing in drives or gardens or talking over the garden fence.
As we look forward to restrictions being lifted, as we move into the next stages on the government’s ‘road map’ on May 17th and June 21st, and as we celebrate with all our partnership churches open for the first time in many months at Pentecost we still have questions to ask ourselves.
· What lessons have we learned about staying connected during the pandemic?
· In what situations are we most connected to God, and to each other?
· What can help each of us to remain in the right place to grow?
· Are there yet more new ways of connecting to explore?
Music: A new commandment I give unto you (R&S 745)
Prayers of Intercession
To all those in need of love: let the love of God be known. To a world in need of love: let the love of God be shown. To those in need of food: let the love of God be shared. By those in need of healing: let the love of God be experienced. By those in need of peace: let the love of God be felt. By those in need of hope: let the love of God be seen. To those in need of joy: let the love of God be sung. By those in need of justice: let the love of God be heard. By all those in need of love: let the love of God be known. Amen.
Music: Let there be love shared among us (R&S 477)
As we leave this place, may we abide with God, grafted and rooted and pruned. Lord, help us to stay connected to one another and to you, bearing fruit wherever your love takes us. Amen.
Prayers copyright © Roots for Churches Ltd.
Used by permission.