Berries, Vérasion, and Harvest
“Every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes that it may bear more fruit.”
Pruning does more than shape a grapevine. Pruning also directs the future growth and direction of the plant, and affect how well the vine produces.
In viticulture, pruning is an ongoing process. The dormant season is marked by constant training and trimming so that the branches are ready to bear the full weight of the fruit to come. In spring, when the branches bud, wine growers have to determine which buds to keep and which to discard.
As abiders in the True Vine, God also uses our dormant times to do major work in us. The times in between ministries or events may be traumatic, which engenders strong but slow growth, or they may be restful, allowing us to store up energy for whatever comes next. During those times, the Lord may see fit to remove some things that we view as generally positive. During the pandemic of 2020-21, physical church attendance was stripped from every believer. But we are called to be in fellowship with one another, so going to church is a good thing, right?
Why would God separate His children from each other? Why would He allow churches to be closed down, not for a just a few weeks, but for a full year?
Not being a prophet, I cannot say for certain, but I do believe that the pandemic provided an opportunity for Christians to take a step back and evaluate their reasons for going to church on Sundays and weekdays and holidays. I think the Church, particularly in the US, had become complacent, and in many cases, just another thing to do. The pandemic was, for the Church, a pruning away of all the non-essentials, even of good things like choirs and children’s activities, so that the permanent trunk, growing directly from the root could strengthen. For individuals, the loss of activities cut away at things and actions that become works-based faith, and offered time (plenty of time) to grow deeper as branches into the True Vine.
The pruning process continues throughout the growth cycle of the vine. The fruit sets, first as clusters of tiny green spheres and then into bunches that we recognize. During vérasion, the grapes (which are technically berries) begin to turn from green to yellow, blush, and every shade of red to indigo. During this time, viticulturalists continue to thin the vines to allow the perfect amount of sun to reach the fruit and to reduce the bunches so that the remaining fruit has the best opportunity to develop flavor.
Our Christian lives are continually shaped with experiences and relationships that stay for a season and then are pruned away. Bad habits, like diseased vines or blemished fruit are also pruned away and discarded. Just because we “lose” something doesn’t mean we aren’t loved by God. It means He has a plan for us to produce the best for His glory. It means that, even though something is good, it may not be best. Pruning eliminates the things that keep us from fully abiding in the vine that is Christ. God is glorified when we acquiesce to His careful cutting away of anything that interferes with what is His best. It is a lifelong process of cutting back the old things, training new growth, and preventing the cares of this world from affecting the fruit we produce.
As Fall approaches, the vines thicken and become more woody. The grapes become heavy with sugar and the harvest begins. While machine harvesting does exist, many wine grapes are still harvested by hand. There is a short window of opportunity to remove the fruit at its perfect sweetness. When the harvest is complete, the vine drops its leaves in a colorful display, and the process of pruning and training begins again. Recent years, especially in the Western US, fires have consumed vineyards before the harvest was complete, and the remnants of ash and smoke in the soil may affect the flavor of future wines in the region. Other years and in other places, hailstorms battered the fragile fruit. Parasites and blights destroyed whole regions. The life of the vineyard keeper changes with every season, but the goal remains the same: grow the grapes that can become the best wine.
As believers grow older, we too may become a little hardened, a bit set in our ways. We like the familiarity of the songs we sang at Bible camp or the liturgies we recall from holidays long ago. We know what the vines should look like and how the fruit should taste. We have weathered the long seasons of life, and we are ready to sit back and let the younger generations take over the work. But like the vines in the vineyards, the master gardener prunes the branches away, taking the plant to its central base as He prepares us for another season of growth and productivity. We are never too old to produce excellent fruit.
Throughout our lives, the only thing keeping us moving closer to holiness is our graft into the vine of Christ. We can do nothing unless we abide in Him. The branches and buds and fruit that are pruned away are discarded so that He can pour his spirit into and through us. We cannot produce holiness in and of ourselves any more than a cut off vine can produce grapes. We do not bring glory to the Father by perfect church attendance, the volunteer activities we do, or even the things we give up. God trains us in righteousness while we are in Jesus. He is the stable root network and the strength of the trunk that allows the branches to flourish. This is the glory of God, that we remain in Christ and produce much fruit as His disciples.
Coming in part three: The wine
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