WORSHIP | Monday, June 12, 2017
Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion
by Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader*
Jesus once promised his disciples that if they would remain in Him, as branches trimmed by the vine grower, they would produce much fruit; fruit that would last.
Vines and fruit. Saints past and present. Generations of the faithful, gathered together and reminded of Christ’s promise of fruitful ministry. The sacrament of Holy Communion, recalled in words that invited God to continue to prune us and help us to grow in relationship with Him. All of these things were present during a meaningful opening worship service on Tuesday, June 12th in Hoover Auditorium.
Bishop Tracy S. Malone presided over worship, joined by her husband, Derrick Malone and her daughters Alexis and Ashley, who all shared as participants in the liturgy. It was indeed a family affair as persons of all ages, clergy and laity, parents and children, joined in leading a celebration of saints past and present.
A beautiful sacred dance by Cara Stultz Costello, told in shadow and light behind a white scrim, opened the afternoon service with a depiction of a vineyard and the vine keeper. As the words of Jesus from John 15:1-17 were read and we heard the Lord encourage us to “remain in my love”, a tapestry of love was woven together creating a symbolic grapevine that included images of children, love and rebirth.
Worship continued with the traditional singing of the Charles Wesley gathering hymn And Are We Yet Alive”, followed by a spirited singing of “For All the Saints”. The naming of the saints followed, as clergy and lay leaders of the conference and spouses of church leaders were remembered with photo memories and the ringing of a bell.
In her sermon "Laborers in the Vineyard", Bishop Malone thoughtfully reflected on the promises and challenges presented to us by Jesus in John's Gospel. If God is the vineyard keeper and Jesus is the true vine, the branches are "the community of faith who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior".
The bishop reminded the gathering of United Methodists of their membership vows in which they opened up their lives to Jesus and invited God to be the keeper of their souls.
“I don’t profess to be a gardener, but the vine grower’s task is to do whatever is necessary to promote growth.” The primary goal of pruning is to maximize the result of the one-year-old fruit on the vine. “Pruning is necessary to allow the vine to grow.”
The bishop continued: "It is God who makes new life possible. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms our lives in our communities. It is God’s desire that we, the Body of Christ might be fully alive in Christ so that we might be filled with vitality."
In words that were encouraging and honest, the bishop reminded the congregation that it is God who cuts off those things that hinder our growth as the Body of Christ. We are to go out into all the world, freed from the bondages of sin, hate, fear and self-reliance to become free for joyful obedience.
"We are smart people, an intelligent people, a gifted people. But apart from the vine, we may do good, but it will not last.”
"To choose not to abide is more than just a hindrance of fruitfulness; you cut yourself off from the life-giving power that Jesus can give."
The bishop admitted that she has seen God’s pruning at work in her ministry of 28 years, but has also witnessed churches pulling back, having lost their vision of Christ. But that vision and Christ's promises remain steadfast, and Jesus' promise to abide with us remains sure.
In remembering the saints of the church, we bear witness to lives that have mattered and fruitful ministry that has lasted.
Challenged to be faithful, trusting God to prune us, and then provided with the holy food of the sacrament, the East Ohio Annual Conference was touched with love, hope and joy for the days to come, remembering the saints and renewing our participation with God's calling, to go out into all the world with the Good News of God's Kingdom, as branches of the true vine, producing fruit that will last.
*Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader serves Pt. Clinton Trinity UMC (Firelands District)