Bearing Resurrection Fruit

A sermon from Linda Mackie Griggs for Easter 5The Vine


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.

Every year during this liturgical season I go on a mission to remind people that they can say “Happy Easter!” for fifty days, not just for one. For those of you counting along, today is Day 29, so that makes 21 “Happy Easter” days to go.

This isn’t just a liturgy-geeky fun fact. Easter as a season, not just a day, is important to the Christian life, if only because at seven weeks—that’s longer than Advent, longer than Lent—its length reinforces the impact of what has happened in the Resurrection. Easter isn’t just a holiday on our calendar—there and then gone—any more than the Big Bang was just a random cosmic pop in space. Like the Big Bang, Easter has transformational consequences. It transforms how we see the world, our neighbors and ourselves. The impact of Easter on our lives is a challenge and an invitation—asking a recurring question: What does it really mean to be People of Resurrection?

Today’s Gospel passage is from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, which he shared with his disciples in the hours following the Last Supper and before his arrest. These are Jesus’ final words of peace, challenge, and reassurance to his friends. Reading the discourse you get the palpable feeling of urgency—like a parent’s final instructions to a child heading out the door, or a teacher trying to cram vital information into the last lecture. Even before the Discourse, at the Last Supper, Jesus urgently needed to communicate his love and legacy in a way that the disciples would never forget; taking bread and wine, blessing them and offering them as himself with words that resound through the ages, This is my Body…This is my Blood.

And the Discourse is similarly vivid as Jesus tries in his last few hours to impress his wisdom on the hearts of his friends.

Today we hear him speak of abiding, of vines, and of fruit. What does it mean to abide in Jesus? In the Gospel and the three Letters of John, all of which were written by the same late first-century community, the word abide appears nearly 70 times. Seventy. Somebody is trying to tell us something.

“To abide” in the Johannine context is distinctive from other references in the New Testament—here it means to stay, remain, dwell, endure, await. It connotes the Benedictine idea of stability—sticking it out no matter what. To abide in Jesus and in God is to be in a consistent, steady, solid, but not always easy relationship. Abiding is both comforting and challenging at the same time.

Seventy times. Obviously, this is a core concept for John. But I don’t think it is necessarily a new idea that randomly popped up in his head. As I was reading this passage and seeing this word repeated…abide…abide…abide…it started reminding me of another phrase that I see over and over when reading the Psalms: Steadfast love. “Help me O Lord! Save me according to your steadfast love….His steadfast love endures forever…Let your steadfast love come to me…” The list of references in the Bible Gateway website goes on for pages.

There is a foundational Jewish ethical/theological concept called chesed. It is articulated in the Hebrew Scriptures as, yes, ‘steadfast love’, mercy or loving-kindness. It refers to the special relationship between God and God’s people, and it informs the relationship of God’s people to one another. Fundamental to chesed is what are called acts of mercy and compassion. In other words, God’s compassionate care for us is reflected in and expressed by our commitment and compassionate behavior toward others.

God’s compassionate care and steadfast love. Abiding love.

Related to chesed is the broader concept of tikkun olam, or ‘repairing the world’; a phrase that dates back to the first century, or about the time of Jesus and John. It encompasses those actions that serve to establish God’s Kingdom by bringing healing and wholeness to the world.

Bearing Fruit

Jesus and John the Evangelist were rooted in the Jewish faith. They were plenty knowledgeable of the Scriptures and of the fundamental tenets of Judaism, including the concept of chesed. So it isn’t too much of a stretch to see how it might influence Jesus’ teachings.

The steadfast love of God invites and challenges us to reflect that love to the world in concrete ways; to contribute actively and intentionally to the healing and reconciliation of God’s people with God, Creation and each other.

To live in the steadfast love of God is to abide in the Vine. A thriving, glorious and prodigiously fruitful vine.

John uses the metaphor of being cut off for the isolation, alienation and emptiness that result from seeking to fill the God-shaped hole within us in exclusively self-gratifying and fruitless ways. We’re called to resist that. We’re called to be woven, entwined, even entangled sometimes, in relationship with God.

To be People of Resurrection is to understand in our minds and hearts that Jesus, the embodied Word of God, is the root and vine of all we do for the healing of the world. We are called to fruitfulness through acts of mercy and steadfast love; acts that are not just good because good people should do good things, but as part of a larger dream—God’s Dream– of a just and peaceful world. A Dream that exploded into Creation in the Risen Christ, and that still ripples through our lives if we have eyes to see it and ears to hear it.

The beauty of the image of the Vine is that the branches share the nourishment together—no one branch must bear the burden of producing all the fruit. The Dream of God is a big picture and we each choose how to respond to God’s call to fruitful living. The key is to begin somewhere and trust in the dream.

There’s a meme that I saw a few months ago that illustrates it: One character says to another: “Why so optimistic about 2018? What do you think it will bring?” Response: “I think it will bring flowers.” “Yeah? How come?” “Because I’m planting flowers.”

To be People of Resurrection is to plant flowers–to live a life of discipleship, connection and community, seeking to thrive and to help others thrive and live abundantly. It is to abide in the Risen Christ—to stay, remain, dwell, endure, await–plant—nourished with faith and hope through the Vine that empowers us to bear fruit that carries the DNA of the Kingdom of God.

Happy Easter!




Of Lambs and Elephants


In the 12th-century, St Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the great Cistercian reform of Benedictine life described Holy Scripture as: 

a vast sea in which a lamb can paddle and an elephant can swim.

When it comes to our encounter with the Bible through a regular practice of reading Holy Scripture, most of us will be lambs paddling. Yet maybe some of us if not already elephants swimming the depths will be encouraged to grow in that direction.

In a few weeks, we will finish our reading of the Bible Challenge, a programmatic reading of the Bible begun after Easter last year. We began the year-long reading of the Bible as a way of dispelling the fruits of 150 years of  Biblical Criticism that has left us feeling that the Bible is for experts, scholars, and clergy trained to be able to unpack the sitz im leben, the historical, cultural, and theological settings in which a text was originally written. This has led to a propensity among Episcopalians to encounter the Bible through the lens of commentary. Thus learning about rather than engaging with the text keeps us in our detached comfort zone.

Yet our Anglican Tradition speaks in the imagery of the three-legged stool in which Scripture, Tradition, and Reason are held in a mutual tension of equal relationship. We still honor Scripture, but we now only hear it within the context of worship. Outside of the formality of liturgy, we attempt to sit on a two-legged stool of Tradition and Reason. Straddling a two-legged stool requires considerable acrobatic dexterity.

St Martin’s is a community where few of us find it possible to accept faith as a matter of unquestioning obedience to the literal interpretation of words on a page. We are a community where faith is increasingly seen as a major life-shaping story. Many of us enjoy the way meaning is conveyed through language that is complex, and nuanced. We are beginning to understand the way story shapes us individually and communally. We believe that metaphor more effectively conveys truth-plus, and that truth is poorly conveyed when limited to the face value of the words on the page.


The language of the Bible is such that meaning is conveyed imaginatively. Meaning is fluid and open-ended able to speak to the challenges encountered in our lived experience. Stimulated by the power of curiosity we are encouraged to explore beyond the simple meaning of words on the page. A rich appreciation of metaphor allows us to echo the words of the prophet Jeremiah[1]:

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty.

Approaching the text for Easter 4 can we discover our experience revealed as truth-plus through the way text uses of metaphor and poetic figures of speech?


The Fourth Sunday after Easter conveys the arresting metaphor of The Good Shepherd conveyed through the powerful imagery of the 23rd Psalm and John 10. In 2015 I preached on the Good Shepherd text, drawing upon what for preachers can become a clichéd contrast between biblical and contemporary images of shepherding. However, coming from a country where sheep outnumber people by 40-1, I am very familiar with the contemporary experience of shepherding sheep.

imgresYou may recall that I have spoken about my nephew Hamish who on his sheep station in The Lord of the Rings high country of N.Z’s. South Island, shepherds his Marino sheep either from the seat of an ATV or the saddle of a horse, depending on the terrain. In response to a complex set of whistles and verbal commands from Hamish, he drives his sheep before him in the direction he wants them to go.

Sheep have been gifted by the Creator with a double dose of stupidity. Nevertheless, the image for our relationship with God is often depicted as a version of modern New Zealand sheep herding; God in the rear driving us on with his dogs of guilt barking in our ears and fear nipping at our heals. Yet, contrast the words of Psalm 23 in which God is the shepherd and we the sheep. God as the Good Shepherd does not drive us before him, setting his dogs upon us, whose bark frightens us, and whose teeth nip us into line. Instead, he leads us beside still waters so that we may lie down in green pastures. Even through the valley of death, he accompanies us so that we need not fear any harm befalling us. His rod and staff are not symbols of discipline and control, but of protection and comfort. The Biblical image of sheep is one of cherished objects with which the shepherd feels an intimacy of love and concern.

Again, a contrast between sheep and people reveals that it is not only sheep who are created with a double dose of stupidity. Jesus, teaching in poetic metaphors discovers again and again that it’s the human beings that fail to hear his voice. The biblical image draws a distinction between the sheep who hear his voice and the people who are deaf to his voice. Hearing in this sense is a metaphor for knowing and being known by.

In John 10 Jesus speaks about the unreliability of the hired hand who at the first sign of the wolf runs away. He speaks of robbers, identified as those who do not enter the sheepfold by the gate. His metaphor for the entrance shimmers between images of gate and gatekeeper before finally identifying himself as the gate. Jesus is not some arbitrary gatekeeper but with his body becomes the gate across the entrance of the sheepfold, so that those who seek to enter to do us harm must first encounter him.

In response to hearing his voice, the sheep come and go, responsive to the shepherd’s voice, in pursuit of the green pasture. The mention of green pasture is a metaphor for life lived to the full takes us full circle back to the imagery of Psalm 23.



Despite the great distances of time, place, and mindset separating us from Bernard of Clairvaux, John the Evangelist, and the psalmist of the 23 Psalm, we share the experience of being shaped by the power of a poetic imagination whose rich language of allegory and metaphor opening our ears to recognize the distinctiveness of God’s voice among the cacophony of competing, false voices in the world. Whether as lambs paddling on the edge of a vast scriptural sea, or as elephants venturing beyond the safety of the shore, we face the prospect of no longer living in a place of security, but still hearing God’s voice echoing through the creative imagination –we swim with increasing confidence and trust. Hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice we navigate through a difficult and at times dangerous world.




Does the first story of Jesus’ resurrection still have any power to change the way we live in the present time? The fact that each of the Gospel writers and St Paul describe the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection differently, is according to N. T. Wright, the best evidence that they were describing real memories of something that actually happened. After all, if you wanted to make up a story in which Jesus dies on a cross and is then miraculously alive again three days later, you would make a much better argued and convincing case than the one made by the gospel writers.

First-century Jews expected the coming of the Messiah. What they didn’t expect was that the Messiah would be someone like Jesus, who instead of leading a great national revolt to throw off the yoke of foreign domination, was put to death in the most ignominious way imaginable. Messiahs didn’t die on crosses, and if they did, then, it just stood to reason that they were not who they claimed to be.

First-century Jews, unlike Jews today, believed in the resurrection of the dead. They believed that the dead went to heaven, where in a state of bliss they awaited the final day of resurrection when they would be raised to a new physical-bodily life, in a new world physically restored by God. Resurrection was not life after death. Life after death was the souls of the righteous resting in the hand of God, as the Book of Wisdom tells us. Resurrection was a stage beyond going to heaven to be with God. It was a return to new physical-bodily life, in a newly restored world. In other words, life, after life after death.

It’s remarkable to see how within a very short space of time, the first-century Jewish followers of Jesus had quite a different story to tell. They not only believed that Jesus’ death didn’t disqualify him as the Messiah but proved the case. They also believed that Jesus did not die and go to heaven but that by raising him to new physical-bodily life God had demonstrated the resurrection ahead of the time of the final fulfillment in which the whole world would be raised to life, after life after death.

Hence the variations in the post-resurrection narratives found in Luke and John, nevertheless stress the detail that Jesus was bodily present to the disciples, not in a spiritual body better suited to the environs of celestial bliss, but in a real-life human body that still bore the marks and signs of the earthly body that had died on the cross. So Luke and John both stress the reality of the wounds to be touched. In the same vein, Luke adds the nice detail about Jesus asking if there was anything to eat and being given a piece of fish.

But the real evidence for the veracity of the gospel narratives about the resurrection of Jesus lies in the power of transformation that came about in the first communities  Christians, who lived according to a different story from everyone else. How can we account for this transformation and the rapid growth in the appeal of the Christian way of life?


The resurrection of Jesus made a difference in the first and following centuries of the common era, but does the story of Jesus’ resurrection still have any power to change us and the way we live in the present time? For me, the answer lies in the power of narrative- or story, to not simply describe but to actually construct-create reality.

On Easter Day my theme concerned the stories we choose to live by. Of course, the real problem lies in the fact that very often the stories we live by choose us, rather than we choose them. This can be a problem and the solution is to become more aware of which stories lay claim to us; shaping our worldviews in ways that with more awareness, we might not be so comfortable with.

Anyone of us has simply to look around at our civic and political culture at the moment to see how some very primitive and pernicious stories are laying claim to sections of popular imagination. We are witnessing a remaking of our society in ways that we as Christians should all find highly disturbing. Primitive and pernicious stories create a reality that hides the truth that we are all in this society together whether we like it or not.

The solutions to many of the issues confronting us in our society will only be found by working together. In order to do this, we need stories that bring us together.

As Christians, we must become more aware of the other stories that are choosing us and preventing us from living according to the resurrection story.When we live the resurrection story our Christian communities become agents of transformation in a world grown old. Materialism is a story of creation without a creator, according to which the material universe seems to run well enough without a need for a creator to guide it along its path.  Instead of the creation reflecting the glory of God, it becomes something to be worshiped in itself. Another overarching story that lays claim to us is the myth of progress.


This last week we commemorated the deaths of both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Most of you know of Bonhoeffer, but you may not be so familiar with de Chardin, a French Jesuit paleontologist who brought a mystical understanding to the natural process of the evolution of the planet. His thinking and writing gave voice to the 20th-century desire for a theology fit for the scientific age. Both priest and paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin believed that all history is evolving towards the Omega-point – the point at which humanity will have evolved enabling the emergence of the Cosmic Christ. It’s a mystical vision that develops a theological version of the myth of progress. The kingdom of God evolves akin to the laying down of evolutionary layers, layer upon layer. The question though is how is God involved in this process? Does God have to wait upon human spiritual-evolution before the emergence of the Cosmic-Christ can occur – a theological version of the Enlightenment theme? It’s natural for the modern mind to read into de Chardin in this way.

Reading de Chardin’s seminal work Phenomenon of Man in my early 20’s his thought influenced me in the direction of embracing a progressive theological worldview. Progressive theology sees the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice through a process in which humanity, despite temporary setbacks and missteps along the way, continues under its own steam to move along the path of improvement. But where does God figure in this human-focused momentum for progress? How can we account for the fact that with each misstep evil and suffering seem to abound? The problem remains of how to account for the flourishing of evil in this process? The best answer, but an unsatisfactory one is that we simply ignore it, seeing evil as a temporary phenomenon that will be corrected in the overall march of progress.

It’s salutary to remember Teilhard de Chardin and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the same week because each of these great Christians presents us with a very different version of the resurrection story.

Bonhoeffer’s theology points us away from an evolutionary model of the kingdom to one of present-time in-breaking of the kingdom. Through the commitment of Christians to live lives of holiness in the here and now the kingdom intrudes, interrupting the world of the status quo. This version of the kingdom requires something from us. Bonhoeffer asks with a poignant timeliness:

having learned the arts of equivocation, pretense, and cynicism are we still of any use? Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness? 


The First Christian communities emerged out of a world not dissimilar to our own. It was a world in which enormous suffering was simply accepted as the way things were. It was a world in which cruelty was the normative quality of human behavior. Local communal identities and economic well-being were suffocated under a blanket of globalist exploitation that served the interests of an imperial trans-Hellenic elite.


These first Christian communities transmuted their Jewish belief in resurrection from a future far-off expectation into something realized in the here and now. Dominic Crossan terms this transmutation – collaborative eschatology.[1] The first Christians were transformed by a hope that flowed from a belief in the resurrection as something that had begun with Jesus in the empty tomb, but more importantly,  was lived-out in lives shaped by the resurrection story in the present. The first Christians saw in Jesus’ resurrection the next chapter in the long Exodus story of liberation.  God was inviting them through the empowered of the Spirit to collaborate with the divine project of liberation and restoration.

The important thing was not that God had inaugurated the end time through raising Jesus from the dead, but that as the Messiah Jesus was in his person God’s-future-arrived-in-the-present.

The first Christians show us what can be done to transform a society in which the evils of a world grown old abound. We are those who belong to Jesus and are called to be the continued embodiment of God’s-future-arrived-in-the-present. Being empowered by the Spirit we have the responsibility to transform our present time to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.


[1] Cited by N.T. Wright pg 46 Surprised By Hope

Persistence: John 20:19-31


A sermon for Easter 2 from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” 

It was a common practice of the Gospel writers to, as they say in theater circles, pierce “the fourth wall”; that is, to speak directly to the audience as an aside to the action on the stage. John’s Gospel is a good example of piercing the fourth wall, only it doesn’t so much pierce it as take a sledgehammer to it. John’s narrative frequently airs the feelings of rejection of the community for having been expelled from the synagogue late in the first century by projecting it back to the events of Jesus’ life and ministry. This is something we’ve been discussing throughout Lent, so it should be no surprise that in today’s story we find another pejorative reference to “the Jews.” We have learned that we need to read John’s Gospel with special care in order to keep from falling into the trap of unintended interpretive consequences, like anti-Semitism. But here today we have another unintended consequence, of a different kind.

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

You know how, when you’re talking with someone, it is the one critical thing that focuses your attention, no matter how many nice things they say? This is one of those cases. A lot of energy has been spent on parsing these parting words of Jesus to Thomas. The word, ‘chastise’ comes up in a number of the commentaries I’ve read this week. We are drawn to wonder: What is Jesus telling Thomas about his faith? Is Thomas now eternally in the doghouse because he was skeptical about the Resurrection? And then by extension, what can I extrapolate about MY faith? What does this say about my winding and bumpy spiritual journey– my questions and doubts? Am I not a good enough Christian because of them? Who IS a good enough Christian if an unquestioning belief is a criterion for being one?

So many questions about doubts. So this statement has been a stumbling block for a lot of people; no surprise then that this is known as the story of Doubting Thomas. We have come to think it’s a story exclusively about him and his supposed lack of faith, and by extension, we tend to think it is a commentary on how we should believe, and what should be the nature of ‘good faith’ and sufficient belief.

But actually, the whole thing is a red herring. We have become completely distracted from the main point.

Rather than being a commentary on faith vs. doubt, this is actually another example of John’s breaking of the fourth wall. But this time he isn’t lamenting the expulsion from the synagogue. This statement has to do with time. John’s Gospel was written almost a generation after the Resurrection, therefore there was no one around who had had direct contact with Jesus or his ministry. So John poked his head through the fourth wall in order to reassure those who had not personally experienced Jesus that their faith in him was not in vain.

So this exchange about doubt and belief has had an unintended consequence of focusing us ultimately on ourselves and what or how WE believe. It doesn’t just miss the point; it turns it totally inside out. We’ve been thinking about what WE do rather than what GOD is doing.

So let’s ask a different question. Were you ready for Easter this year?

Not everyone is. It is such a wondrous time of hope, joy and promise—a celebration of Jesus’ triumph over death, showing us that nothing, no nothing can come between us and the love of God. It’s a powerful message. So powerful, sometimes, that it is difficult to take it in. Our fragile humanity just doesn’t feel up to the task of comprehending something that momentous.

I know someone whose mother died on Easter Sunday a few years ago. That particular day was pretty much a fog for her, but a year later, after a months’-long grief journey, when Easter came around again, it was a very difficult time. She looked at me sadly and said, “Easter just came too early. I’m not ready for it.”

This was a rawly honest statement—arguably theologically questionable for a seminary student, but that was her truth in that moment.

So what was Thomas’s truth on that first Easter? We can only speculate as to why Thomas was not in the house with his friends on that day. We do know that he greeted the disciples’ news with skepticism—a skepticism likely born of the trauma and grief of the preceding days. The news of resurrection was too much. He wasn’t ready for Easter. Perhaps he didn’t want to be disappointed yet again. And so his absence is a stand-in for anyone who carries a wound or burden that distances them from Easter joy: health issues, grief at the loss of a loved one, disillusionment with the church, alienation from a community, fear for the future. Sometimes we can’t see Easter right in front of us. Sometimes we don’t dare look. It is possible to be locked-out in more ways than one.

But here’s the point: Whether locked out like Thomas or locked in like the disciples, Jesus came anyway. Right through the door. Twice. Historically we have focused on Thomas’ refusal to believe unless he touched Jesus’ wounds, but note that he wasn’t the only Doubting Thomas of the group. Even the rest of the disciples in the house hadn’t believed the reports of the women disciples. Instead,   they had gone into hiding, and when Jesus came through the door—literally through the door–they didn’t recognize him until they had seen the marks in his hands and side. (“THEN the disciples rejoiced…”)

Did he chastise them for locking the door? No.Did he chastise them for their fear? No.

He just said, “Peace be with you,” and in a Pentecost, moment breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. And then sent them out– made them Apostles.

That’s the point.  This is about what Jesus did, not about what fear, denial, depression, or doubt did. Here he came. Ready or not. And he did it twice.

And yet, having seen and rejoiced at seeing Jesus the first time—what did they do? These newly-inspirited Apostles shut the door again. And again it didn’t matter. Jesus came bringing words of peace. No chastisement. Just grace. It’s not about what they did (or didn’t do.) It was about what Jesus did. He persisted. He persisted through betrayal, death and the tomb. He persisted through the locked doors and locked hearts of his fearful friends. He never gave up on them.

And so he offered his wounds to Thomas. Here, he says, touch. I am really here. And I’m not going anywhere.

Thomas’s declaration of faith was instantaneous. He had said that he would not believe unless he put his hand in Jesus’ side and touched his hands and feet, but as it turns out Jesus’ presence was all that he needed.

“My Lord and my God.”

Thomas saw Jesus’ wounds. The disciples recognized Jesus when they recognized his wounds.

Wait a minute.

Jesus was resurrected with his wounds. The risen Lord is not complete without them. He is not complete without brokenness, because brokenness is part of this world—a world Jesus loved to the end and loves still. He loves it—and us– completely and persistently. All of us. All of us who at some time or another are locked out or locked in. Ready or not, God’s love is always ready to be present for us. Ready to help us bear our own wounds, and to help us bear the wounds of others.

My friend who struggled that Easter a few years ago found comfort in her community. Jesus showed up in the friends who offered their listening and prayerful presence. For those friends, her questions and doubts were secondary to the grief that had her locked in. And Jesus showed up.

Jesus’ persistence challenges us to see and seek him in places we don’t expect, in people we might not recognize at first, and even at times when we think we least desire it.

We are people of the Resurrection. Jesus calls us to be apostles—sends us out to proclaim the Good News, using words if necessary.

And he’s ready when we are.

Blog at

Up ↑