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Homily for 5th Sunday Easter, Year B, 2024

Today in our Gospel Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine. This was a powerful symbol in the Jewish world, and became one also for Christians. A vine was one of the major decorations of the Temple in Jerusalem. The ancient writer Josephus describes a large golden vine decorating the door to the Temple’s inner sanctum. The Church of San Clemente in Rome famously has a vine growing out of the Cross as the tree of life. In St Mary’s Church, the tabernacle is decorated with a vine. And so is the baptismal font.

We actually had our baptism preparation night this week, when we meet with the parents. I think I have mentioned before that the night is divided in two. First, we begin in the parish office discussing their hopes for their children, what a good life looks like and the conditions necessary for it. Then, we move into the Church and work our way through the ritual in light of that discussion. The idea is to understand how the ritual asks and answers the same questions that all parents wonder about. (Kind of an exercise in compare and contrast.)

The discussion begins with the question of what would a good life look like for your children. Based on these answers, we then reverse engineer a role description for them as parents. Finally, we ask what kind of society would help or hinder the achieving of these things. A key discussion point becomes the responsibility of parents to witness what a good life looks like, and also to set out about creating the society that would help their children achieve this. A lot of this is the familiar point that if what is necessary does not exist, then we have to go about creating it. It is no good just talking about it. What is required then is a certain boldness, but a boldness that is part and parcel of love, especially parental love. It is intrinsic to the decision to love, to be parents.

This is also echoed in the baptismal rite itself. After the parents have presented their child and explicitly asked for their child the gift of entering the Church, of eternal life, of baptism, the minister then reads out their responsibilities that flow from this. “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so, you are accepting the responsibility of training him or her in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him or her up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us”. We see in this role description that knowledge by itself is not enough. The Word must take flesh. Christianity is not simply about knowledge. Christianity is about the Incarnation. Boldness is built in.

We hear something similar in our readings. We have the image of the vine. Jesus tells us that we must be branches of the vine. We therefore must be of the same kind as Christ. We must proclaim the kingdom like he does. We must preach God’s love and mercy like he does. We must welcome the outcasts like he does. We must be bold like he is.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the early Church came round to St Paul in our first reading. They knew him as the persecutor and so were afraid of him, but they came round to him in part because of his bold preaching. Perhaps they recognised in him the same spirit that inspired the preaching of St Peter and the Apostles, likewise bold. Perhaps they recognised in him the same spirit as was evident in the preaching of the Lord. Perhaps then they recognised him as a true branch of the true vine, the same life evidently coursing through him.

One of my uncles once told me that a major reason for his belief in the Resurrection was St Paul. To him, St Paul was a very serious person. Someone who told it how it was, didn’t peddle in soft, fluffy answers. For my uncle, if someone like Paul could be converted, and if he said it was true, then it probably was. I wonder: would our friends say the same thing about us?

Another way of approaching this might be to ask: am I a bold disciple? And if I am not, do I want to become one? And if I don’t, what is that saying about my love for Christ? These are questions worth praying about.

Just one final point. Perhaps we do not feel that bold. How might we improve? Our gospel might provide one answer. The experiment of pruning. Before I am bold in relation to proclamation, perhaps I can test it out in my own life. Perhaps I might boldly ask God to prune me. Ask God to prune some of the deadwood from my life. Perhaps when I experience God’s power in this way – both in terms of giving me the grace to cut out the rubbish, and also the experience of real life as a result – perhaps when I experience the liberating power of God’s healing love, this will inspire me to share this love with others. Perhaps I will become bold in this knowledge. Love of God and love of neighbour uniting. God’s love activating and informing my love of my neighbour.

Let’s pray then that our community is recognisable to others as a branch of the true vine. And perhaps let’s commit ourselves to the pruning required to reveal the abundance of life within each one of us and our community as a whole.

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