Today’s gospel lesson (John 15:1-11) is oddly familiar to me. I don’t think I’ve ever preached on it. I’m sure I’ve passed through it in one bible study or another. For me, the real connection with this passage is the service known as “Communion Under Special Circumstances,” which begins on page 396 of the Book of Common Prayer. If you’ve never been a part of this service, it’s the one that clergy or Eucharistic Visitors use when bringing Communion to a home-bound or sick individual. Because of that, my whole understanding of what it means to “abide” in Jesus is shaped by those visits.
When I come to a living room or a hospital bedside with my little brown wooden case, I feel like I’m bringing a small piece of our church to a person who can’t physically get there on Sunday morning. I can’t remember ever taking Communion to the home of someone who is in no way limited in his or her mobility, so the act of coming into someone’s domicile with consecrated bread and wine is a real way to bridge an often uncrossable gap between that person and the church. I’m not doing anything fancy or special, but the fact that I have Jesus with me makes all the difference.
As we gather, I pass out a little Communion card that I have preprinted with the service on it in large type. I usually explain very briefly how the service will unfold, and then we get right down to it. And right near the beginning of the liturgy is this reading: “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 you unless you abide in me.” I’ve said those words to people enough times to give me a chance to think about them. What does it mean to say to someone who cannot physically join her church family that God is inviting her to abide in himself? How might this small act of worship shared between two or three people help remind this person that she really is abiding in the vine so that she might bear fruit? What does it mean for a bedridden woman who passes all her days in lonely quiet to bear fruit as a disciple of Jesus? These are powerful questions that touch me at my core.
Every one of us—young and old, busy and relaxed, mobile and home-bound—to abide in the Lord. God invites us to remain within himself—to live there, in that place where God dwells. And it is by staying and inhabiting that space that we bear fruit—that we live the life God is calling us to live. It may be counterintuitive to think that someone who passes the time in a nursing home without ever speaking to anyone could possibly bear fruit as Jesus’ disciple, but that is exactly what Jesus declares to us, and that is exactly what this Communion service is designed to do. We all bear fruit in our own circumstance. We all have a part to play in the fellowship of the saints. How might one of our oldest, least mobile parishioners remind us of what it really means to abide in the one who calls us his own?