April 3, 2018

The Resurrection and Life

Do you long for New Life?  Easter is about the only new life this tired out world has ever known. This life has the form of a vine exploding with branches and fruitfulness.

Jesus, risen from the dead, is the Vine - and his friends who believe in Him are the branches. He has called you, the one who is reading this, into this friendship.  Connected to the Word of the Father by faith, we have a new life in us -- an eternal life, stronger than death, making all things new.  Just as life flows from a vine to the branches, the Holy Spirit flows from the Son through His Body, the Church, into the soul of the believers to make their love for one another fruitful.

That we might fully possess this joyful fruitfulness, the Father tenderly serves us as the Vine-Dresser. He delicately prunes his vines, for no other reason than that they might be fruitful. Sometimes, this means patiently pruning us down to the stump, until nothing but what seems weakest and most inadequate is left.

The mystery of the Father's vine-dressing is a difficult mystery. Yet, it is rooted in everything Christ revealed to us through His own passion and resurrection. Only by allowing His Son to suffer death is the Father able to raise Christ's humanity to life not subject to death. Similarly for us, that we might know the life of the Risen Lord, the Father sometimes prunes away what we deem most precious.

The devotion of Christ to the Father, characterized as it is by faithfulness, confidence and trust, must become our same obedience to Christ. His total surrender to the loving plan of the Father is given to us and meant to live in us. The Father only prunes away what is lifeless, what stands in the way of this surrender.  He permits us to die to ourselves in order that Christ's obedience might become the obedience that lives in our hearts. As the Risen One reveals, surrendering to the Father's will, even as we die to ourselves, opens up a more fecund and eternal mystery. Paradoxically, being pruned by the Father is the source of joy.

To be pruned down to the stump - there are times when we most desire to feel the presence of the Risen Lord, but in our distress cannot seem to find Him. It is a kind of death. Sometimes,we are permitted to suffer that interior void, that empty abyss that only He can fill. We long for an answer to tragedies sometimes so catastrophic that nothing in our lives feel like they will ever be the same again.  Instead, we are left, at least for a time, feeling puzzled and even abandoned. Yet, engulfing this abyss is an even deeper abyss: God has plunged our misery into the immensity of His Mercy. 

Though we cannot see or feel it, Christ who knows our misery sends the Holy Spirit into our sorrow to bring us a new life, a new joy.  This is why, as we are pruned even to the stump, we have a reason for our hope.  If we believe, nothing can stand between us and the love of Christ - no matter how great the feeling or difficulty. Our work, at such times, is simply to trust in Him, to remain in Him by an act of faith -- for obedient faith goes deeper than feeling, thought, fantasy or intuition. Obedience lives in a deeper part of who we are -- and the Spirit dwells in these abysses because it is here that He has fashioned horizons vast enough for His presence.

The Risen One too was stripped, and as He suffered the loss of everything, our Crucified God, through his obedient devotion to the Father, accomplished His greatest work: our salvation. Our work, as the Father prunes the branches of His Vine, is to be obedient to the Word that not even the meaninglessness of death could mute. This means sacrificing our plans for God's plans. It means putting our neighbor before what is comfortable and convenient. It means also renouncing sin - no matter the cost. It means offering the sorrow of our heart as a sacrifice of love in prayer. All of this is how we remain in Christ even as we are being pruned and stripped of everything - even down to the stump of our lives. When the obedience of our faith is most tested and conformed to the obedience of the Son, we can at last receive the fruitful joy that the Father longs for us to know.