This week the theme of Jesus as the vine, and us as the branches, as read in John 15, has featured in a number of ways. From the refrain in Morning Prayer on Monday "You did not choose me, but I chose you" which comes at the end of the passage, to the theme on Monday evening's Contemplative Prayer, and the content of the weekly conversation that Laura and I had (which you can find on Facebook or Youtube), this sense of being connected to a strong life giving source, and all that this means in the way we live our lives, feels like an apt message for this week.
The metaphor is simple - the Father God is the gardener who enables the vine, the branches evolve and grow from there, with tendrils that reach out to form other connections, and that bear fruit. As I reflected on Monday evening, those tendrils can sometimes feel like unfinished business, or uncertainty, and we may wonder where there is meaning and purpose in some of our experiences. If we remain connected to the vine, though, none of the tendrils are wasted, we simply have to trust that in the scope of a growing, connected relationship with Jesus, and in God's economy, even if we can't see the finished connection or fruit, it will be good, and even if we feel like we might be being pruned, it will be good. The metaphor continues, though, with a warning about what happens if we become disconnected from the vine, if we choose to cut ourselves off from a relationship with God, or if we live our lives as if we have no connection, responsibility, accountability, or shared identity - in other words, living life solely for ourselves with no regard for another - it may work in the short term, but the branch will eventually wither because there is nothing of substance or meaning that feeds it.
We're nourished in this connection when we gather to worship, when we pray, when we share fellowship, and when we share our stories. All of this has featured over the last week, and it was such a pleasure to see so many people at the Cream Tea last Sunday, as well as in our various acts of worship and prayer. None of these events are disconnected from the other, gathering for a cream tea is more than a cup of tea and a scone, and an act of worship is more than words spoken or sung, rather that shared life blood that is our faith community is tangible and we remember our identity as a corporate body, not just individuals spending time together.
Those connections can sometimes come in surprising forms, and I was delighted to hear from a local photographer who during lockdown came to take photographs of some of the flowers in the church grounds. The beauty of the images was unexpected, because she has managed to capture single blooms and close up shots that we might otherwise miss if we're taking in the view of the grounds as a whole, Seeing a close up image of something that is part of a bigger whole, not just a plant, or a part of the grounds, but of our space, was remarkable. We're going to include her work in the church magazine that will come out in the Autumn. I remain so thankful to Kathryn Ashby-Hayter for all of her work tending for our outdoor space.
That connection also means that there is nothing that is outside of the scope of God's design and delight, nothing outside of his care and concern, and nothing outside of his longing and loving. It means that the simple prayer we might offer for ourselves is as dear to God's heart as the weighty intercession for reconciliation in the world, if it is offered in truth and love.
And so as God invites us to remain in the vine, I invite you to remain with this metaphor for a while. How are you remaining connected to Jesus? How are your rhythms of reading God's word, and of prayer? Where are the moments you are intentionally being still, not because you need a rest (!) but in order to know God? Where are those tendrils of what feels like unfinished business, uncertainty, lack of control? How can you reach that point of trust that, in the words of Mother Julian of Norwich "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" - not because of our own efforts, or need for control but because we take that step of faith that God knows the purpose and meaning?
One of the ways I feel connected to you all is in my daily offering of prayer for the parish, please know that I do pray for you each day. Join me in that time of prayer on a Monday morning on zoom if you are able to, or come along to church on Sunday at either 8.30am or 10.30am to be connected to the body. Save the date for the Teddy Bear's picnic on Saturday 7th August at 11am, or for coffee and cake on Friday 13th August at 10.30am. Alternatively - or additionally - why not take a wander around the church grounds, bring your bible with you to read John chapter 15 while you pause, or simply stop and smell the flowers, and be connected with that beautiful space.
In the name of Jesus, as ever