April is National Gardening Month. How many people have the green thumb? How many can’t wait to sink your hands into the soil preparing it for seeds and fledgling plants? My hat goes off to you. I have the kiss-of-death thumb. I have one plant, one plant, that has survived my 30 years attempt at gardening. Plants shrivel and droop under my watch. They see me coming and they cast themselves on the nearest pruning shears. It’s gardening season and I have learned to appreciate the blooming and growing, with awe and wonder, from a respectable distance.
So, it’s National Gardening month. We appreciate those who tend well the amazing growth of flowers, fruit and vegetables, the greenery of our world. Today our scriptures also proclaim a gardening day, a day to think about the season of spiritual gardening in our gospel lesson.
Jesus, according to John, had just finished his last Passover meal before his death. He drank the fruit of the vine for the last time (Matt. 26:29). As Jesus walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to spend his final hours, in prayer, waiting for his arrest, no doubt he had a lot on his mind. No doubt vineyards crossed his mind, as he passed by them. The vineyard image is embedded deeply in scripture. Vineyards were deeply in the psyche of the Jewish people Vineyards were everywhere in Palestine. They were a part of everyday life. I imagine, as Jesus made his way to the garden to pray and wait for his arrest, he recalled vineyard verses.
Perhaps in this somber time Jesus recalled the words of the morning prayers from Psalm 80: “You brought a vine out of Egypt …you cleared the ground, for it took deep root and filled the land.” (Ps 80:8-9). No doubt, Jesus thought of the promises of God echoed in Micah, which described the fulfilled life, “Everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one will make them be afraid.” The image of vineyards filled Jesus’ mind as he walks to Gethsemane, because God called the People of Israel his grapevine. Surely Jesus recalled the motif of the grapevines on Jewish coins, the decorations of grapevines on the main doors of synagogues and even etched in gold in the across the grand entrance of the Temple in Jerusalem. Grapevines. Grapevines. They were everywhere. They were symbolic of God’s relationship with his people. Now Jesus took this symbol as his own.
Jesus dwelt on the symbol of the grapevine because he was about to face the most brutal pruning, a pruning to the depth of his soul, on this spiritual Gardening Day. Jesus looks at his disciples, disciples that will deny him, betray him, leave him. At that moment, Jesus prepares the soil for them. Jesus prepares them to be pruned to the quick as well. However, he needs for them to know in this dark hour when all seems lost, the power of the True Vine will endure. For in the True Vine he will abide with them and they will abide with him. They will remain with him, they will remain in him, he says over and over. More than anywhere else in the gospels. Jesus is the “True Vine” that wraps around the cross and yet lives. He is the living vine that not even death can cut down. This is the power of the vine of Jesus, the vine of living, abiding love. It rebounds the pruning of death with resurrection power, producing fruit 100-fold.
Jesus declares that today is National Gardening Day in the church. On this gardening day we encounter Jesus as the True Vine. We celebrate ourselves as branches of this true vine. We are not joined to Jesus in some mechanical way that if we remove a plank, remove a cog, all movement ceases. No. We are connected to Jesus, he declares, in a living, organic way. If we are cut off from the vine, we spiritually die. If we abide, simply remain, simply be, simply dwell with Jesus, it means that the fruit of Jesus -- the goodness and loving-kindness of his life -- courses through us and we bear this very same fruit. This process of abiding, enduring, dwelling in Jesus producing fruit just as naturally as we when we watch those daffodils that are busy blooming, the forsythia standing guard along yards and parkways, the blue muscari that edges the lawns that my dogs insist on stopping to take a sniff. They bloom for they abide solidly in the soil, the branches, the stems. Jesus is the True Vine, we are the branches. Like the Lilies, we neither toil or spin, but if we submit to the divine-life force coursing through or branches we will bear fruit. Fruit that will endure. Spiritual Fruit that the world is in need us: fruit of the Spirit the Bible names as love, faith, goodness, peace, joy, gentleness and self-control. (Gal5:22-23)
On this National Spiritual Gardening Day, I so appreciate at how the vine operates. Vines climb, they creep, they crawl. They persistently spread out in a horizontal fashion, even a vertical fashion, for example along trellises. The true vine spreading throughout our families, our churches our communities and all of earth. The True Vine, grafted on the cross, has spread out vertically and horizontally throughout the ages, in all directions, down through centuries until here it abides, right here, in this sanctuary with branches anchored in each of our hearts. That’s abiding power of the True Vine, the gift given to the disciple branches, we have the power to remain, to dwell, to be, to rest, to continue, to endure patiently just like our sister and brother vines, flowers, trees and shrubs in nature.
Gardeners remind us, if I understand them correctly, that vines send out shoots that attach to objects. Tendrils emerge that coil tightly around objects in its environment. Twining stems claim assist branches to anchor us to posts or trellises. The True Vine sends branches in our hearts, tendrils that grasp our thoughts, twining stems that climb to help us develop the character from which good fruit emerges. Branches go where the Vines send them. Branches go where they are needed. This is the abiding power of the vine, the abiding power the vine gives to us. We, disciples-branches of the Lord, send out those stems to embrace our family and friends. Just like in Acts, we too send out stems to strangers like the stranger, the Ethiopian Eunuch, seeking to understand the word of God. We are disciple-branches like Philip, obeying the Spirit to help someone, even if we don’t understand. We, disciple-branches, abiding in Christ, send out tendrils to take hold tightly of each other in love, to take hold and bloom love amidst the hurt in our community.
Today, on this National Spiritual Gardening day, we see the power of the branches to reach out, intertwine, abide, and bring life to those around us. As we tend this spiritual garden, we ask, are we bearing fruit, the fruit that endures? Have the tendrils of love and joy been entwining in the circumstances of our life? Have the twining stems of peace and forbearance coiled tightly through all tasks of our day? Have our branches sending forth buds of kindness and goodness, embracing all in our path? Is faithfulness growing? The Fruits that endure are not perennials or annuals – they are everlasting.
So, on this National Spiritual Gardening Day, we pray, divine gardener, prune away doubt. Divine Gardener prune away fear. Divine Gardener, prune away our stubbornness, our selfishness, our restlessness that keeps us from abiding in you, resting in you, grounded in you. Divine Gardener, we say, prepare the soil of our hearts, remove branches dead from apathy and sin, and unrighteousness. Divine gardener, graft unto us the True Vine, with healthy branches that bloom in your timing. Disciple-branches, abiding in our Savior Jesus Christ, we will bloom love. We will bloom righteousness. We will bloom joy. We will bloom justice and peace. We will bloom mercy and kindness. We will be the garden of the Living Vine, the garden that will cover our communities, advance into the world with abundant fruit that endures.