Grace to you and peace from the one triune God. Amen.
An ecumenical reading of John 15:1-17,
15 Jesus is the true vine, and his Father is the vine-grower. 2 The Father removes every branch that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit the Father prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 We have already been cleansed by the word that Jesus has spoken to us, 4 “Abide in me as I abide in you.” Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can we unless we abide in him, [and abide in each other]. 5 He is the vine, we are the branches; [the branches are very often intertwined.]
“Those who abide in me [and each other] bear much fruit, because apart from me [and each other] you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love [and love each other.]. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete[, and you may complete each other.]”
12 This is his commandment, that we love one another as he has loved us. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 We are friends if we do what he has commanded us. 15 We do not call each other strangers any longer, because strangers do not know what the other is doing; but we call each other friends, because he has made known to us everything that he has heard from the Father. 16 We did not choose each other but he chose us. [So, we must chose each other and abide in each other]. And he has appointed us to go and bear fruit [together], fruit that will last, so that the Father will give us whatever we ask him in his name.
17 “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another [as I have loved you first.”]
We might take the Week of Prayer of Christian Unity for granted, but when it was first organised, it was a major step in the relations of the different Christian churches or denominations as we call them. And even today, unfortunately, not all churches and groups calling themselves Christians participate.
Unity Week is tucked away between two minor feast days or commemorations, and we do well to pay more attention to these as they bring to the forefront and emphasise the reasons for keeping the annual Week of Prayer. On 18th January, at the beginning of Unity Week, we commemorate the Confession of Peter: “You are the Messiah.” And on 25th, to close the week, we commemorate the Conversion of Paul: “Why do you persecute me?”
So our conclusion must be, especially during this special week, if we believe in the same Messiah, why do we persecute each other? Now, persecute is a very strong word, and maybe words like avoid, or distrust, or mock, or disagree, or compete with are better suited for our situation, even with all the work that has already been done. The Road to Damascus is nonetheless still long.
Abide in me, our Lord told his disciples, and that’s what ecumenism and unity must mean, to abide in each other as each of us abides in the Lord as he abides in each of us.
After all, and we do well to remember this, Christ did not say, I will be the vine, you will abide in me, my Father will be glorified. No, he said, I am the vine, you abide in me, my Father is glorified, etc. We must remember that unity has already been given us, because as with everything with God, God always takes the first step, usually without us deserving it, asking for it, or even realising it.
That’s called grace. It’s a grace that throws our divisions and arrogance and disagreements and suspicions on a pile and burns them. The ashes than serve to fertilise the vine and its branches, to grow together as one vine, one Body, one holy catholic and apostolic Church