I have always had a tough time grasping the fullness of the story of the Vine and Branches (John 15: 1-17). Despite growing up near the vineyards of San Diego’s north county, I never really connected with this special metaphor. Jesus paints a picture in which he is the vine, molded, pruned, and formed by God who is the vinegrower. Jesus’ followers are then the branches sprouting forth from the vine, made to bear fruit, the fruit of loving others. Though I understood the theology of this explanation, I never found a real connection with it. Not until I was standing in the shallows of the Pacific…
As a San Diego native, the ocean has very special meaning for me. In it, I find peace, I find connection, I find home. Until moving to the East Coast, I had never lived more than 20 minutes from the beach. When I was visiting home a few weeks ago, I made sure that I had plenty of time to go down to my favorite shoreline in Del Mar where I could frolic in the waves, listen to the wind, and rejoice in the sunset that I had so missed living in urban Boston. It was there where I found a new metaphor for the Vine and the Branches – the Ocean and the Waves.
I stood in shallows, waves crashing around my feet and ankles. In and out. Proceeding and receding. Looking down I noticed a tiny fleet of burrowed sand crabs, their antennae poking out no more than a centimeter, collecting the plankton that washes over them. These waves were the lifeline of the tiny creatures, bringing the nutrients of a rich ocean that connects so many incredible living beings, so much diversity of creation. These waves are sent forth by the ocean, shaped and molded to bear fruit, to bear life to the all those that it touches. Like the branches, they proceed from their source on mission and then retreat back into the vast ocean, a small part of the whole.
Like the waves sent forth from the ocean, we too are rooted in our source, our God. We are sent out on mission, directed and pruned by the movements of the oceans, the wind, and the beach. We are not alone, but accompanied by other waves, side-by-side on shores throughout the world bearing love and life. In the midst of our work we soon retreat back into the ocean remembering our home in Christ, our life-giver. When we forget our connection, our Creator, we can become like puddles of water on the beach out of sync with the whole of the Ocean – disconnected, bearing no fruit, and on the path to ultimately drying up. Like the waves commissioned to bring the Ocean’s nutrients to the tiny sand crabs and the branches sprouting forth from the vine, we are sent on to bring God’s love into the world, called to service of all creation.