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.
There’s a mystery at the heart of the Christian faith: how is the God and creator of the universe supposed to communicate with and make himself known to us flawed, limited, sinful humans? In the words of the Psalmist, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is so high I cannot attain it!” Fortunately, this God is full of grace, grace by which he finds tools of mediation so that his nature, character, will and wisdom may be made known to us. For Moses and the Israelites, it was tabernacle and Torah. Today for the Church, God meets us in our church buildings, in the pages of scripture, in weekly bread and cup. These are the very grace by which God comes close to us and makes himself known.
And yet, the pages of scripture contain story after story of God occasionally bypassing these mediators to have direct contact with flawed, limited, sinful humans like Jacob and Moses, Peter and Saul, to name a few. So let’s play out a little scenario: you find yourself driven into the wilderness with Jesus for forty days – with no food, no bible in your hands, no church building to drive to, no crackers and grape juice for the Lord’s Supper – what’s left?
And Jesus says to you, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
When we step into this wilderness, this void, when there’s nothing left to put in our hands, when there’s nowhere left to walk or drive, when there’s nothing left for our five senses to tell us, no more information for our brains to process, what remains?
Jesus remains. The vine pouring its life and nourishment into the branches remains. The Word that first spoke us into existence remains. The creator whose love sustains our existence remains. The fact that the branch has any life in it at all means the vine is still there, still connected, still sharing its life and nourishment.
“Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus goes on to say to you, not meaning by this that on your own, you’re weak and sinful and cowardly. He simply means that on your own, you’re nothing at all, good or bad. Just nothing. Apart from Jesus, you and I don’t even exist in the first place. It is the breath of Jesus that expands and contracts our lungs. It is the heart of Jesus that beats in our chests to pump the blood of Jesus through our bodies.
What are we doing? What is our ultimate human vocation? What is the beginning and end of everything we do and say and think? Once we imagine ourselves in the void of wilderness, where jobs and entertainment and cravings and doctors’ appointments can’t follow us, what’s left for us to do?
To rediscover the love and joy that are the actual source of our life, whether there’s something to mediate it or not. To know Jesus, the vine, in ways that exceed our ability to put into words, to pray even with groans too deep for words, to know peace that surpasses understanding.
Jesus, and nothing else, is our source of life. He is the sustenance by which we live from day to day. He is the nourishment by which our lives produce the fruit of love and joy. He is the vine out of which our very lives sprout and grow and make new things. May his life pour into us. May we experience this life mediated and unmediated.