Easter 5, preached by Rev. Jane McBride on April 28, 2024

A week or so ago, on a beautiful spring morning, I listened intently to the radio. Anticipating the closure of the Stone Arch Bridge, reporter Cari Spenser interviewed Clawhammer Mike. She sets the scene this way: 

When the sun is out, the 51-year-old always sets up the same: white bucket for tips, foldable metal chair one scootch over from a lamp post on the St. Anthony Main side of the bridge, baseball cap on head. Then, the busker strums, picking quickly, sometimes slower, different Appalachian Mountain music tunes. Kids stop, adults stop, the birds and bike wheels seem like part of the soundtrack.

In the piece, Clawhammer describes a lonely, disconnected childhood that culminated in three years without a place to call home. He sums it up, saying “Really, I was mostly by myself.” Fortunately, he found the resources and support he needed at the time. A couple of years ago, he decided to leave the job he’d held for 23 years in order to fully engage in his work of music-making, printmaking, and preserving musical traditions. Clawhammer observes: “What I should have done is, according to the world, made CDs and toured, got my band together. Instead, I chose community.” It’s delightful and moving to hear how Clawhammer’s presence has created community in the liminal space of the bridge. He recalls offering company to a father who had lost his son and a listening ear to someone trying to kick a heroin addiction. He says: “I consider it part of my work down here to talk to people and make real connections.” He fondly remembers “the guy who would bike by and yell ‘I love banjos!’ nearly every day.” And he describes the dancers: “The young Muslim women wearing the hijabs come out and they dance every time I’m playing.”[1]

“I chose community.” Clawhammer Mike’s story illuminates a simple, yet crucial truth: community will not happen, it will not exist, unless we invest in it. And if we prioritize community, we necessarily withdraw our attention from other, less important, things. Clawhammer let go of an assured income, and the stability and security that came with that, in order to pursue something he values more. His approach may not fit for most of us. And yet there are many small, day-to-day ways we can choose community—leaning into connection and care rather than efficiency and profit; giving and sharing rather than stockpiling savings and stuff; spending less time on screens and apps so we can be fully present; and/or using electronic platforms to foster meaningful interaction; finding ways to pay deep attention to the beauty and pain of this world.

Choose community. I believe that’s one way to understand what Jesus meant when he said: “Abide in me as I abide in you.” “Abiding” is a theme in the Gospel of John. This term, meno, in Greek, abide, occurs nine times in these eight verses. And it shows up forty times in the Gospel as a whole. According to scholars of biblical Greek, meno describes “loyalty or deep attachment”; “mutual indwelling” in God’s love; and a sense of being “deeply at home.”[2] [3] In today’s passage, Jesus calls his followers into this activity of abiding using the metaphor of the vine and the branches. This image of community would have been familiar to them; the Hebrew scriptures often compare God’s people to a vineyard.

“Abide in me as I abide in you; I am the vine and you are the branches”—these are Jesus’ words of farewell to his community the night before his execution. And at the very same time, these words describe the resurrection community that Christ embodies and calls us to participate in even now. The lectionary (the assigned cycle of scripture readings) purposefully invites us to revisit this night of tension, fear, and grief from the perspective of Easter morning. Because resurrection is a both/and reality. Even as crucifixion continues to wound and fragment creation, we also welcome new life, life of a different kind, life in community.

Jesus’ words offer comfort and reassurance: no matter what happens, we will never be severed from each other. The vine and the branches form one being, one interdependent community. Through everything, we abide. We remain connected and unified, bound together in the divine love that is the deepest, strongest force in the universe, the love that will not let us go. We are each nourished by the life that flows through resurrection community—from soil to root to vine, from vine to branches. And in this amazing organism, there is no hierarchy, only loyalty, mutual in-dwelling, and belonging. “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” Abiding in the Jesus-vine, we find purpose and meaning; we discover our ways of contributing to the common good. And it is only through this fruitfulness of ours that Jesus can fulfill his mission of building beloved community.

As we step, together and apart, into the space of sabbatical, I hear the voice of Jesus calling us to abide. For me, answering this call will look like sinking more deeply into practices that are always important to me: reading, exercise, prayer, gardening, creating, spending time with loved ones. And I’ve been planning a bit of travel—a backpacking adventure with my brother in Great Smoky Mountain National Park; a family trip to Holden Village in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. I’ve been trying to keep my sabbatical plans simple and restful. My greatest hope for this time is that it feels spacious. Most of all, I want to cultivate presence and attention. I want to go slow and savor everything—the blooming, leafing, and fruiting, the neighborhood strolls and mountain hikes, the train rides and boat rides, the snuggles, the deep conversations and funny stories, the pondering and processing of all that has transpired for us as a church and for our family amid the intensity of these last few years.  

I’ve never tended a grapevine, but at our old house I did establish a huge and vigorous raspberry bush over many seasons. The roots of a raspberry plant continually send up new shoots and these branches, called canes, each live for a few years. In the late winter or early spring, the gardener can help the plant toward its full flourishing by cutting out the canes that have died, and trimming the other sprawling canes back to about shoulder height. We are so programmed to hear a tone of harsh judgement in scripture, a shaming, a sense of “You better behave or else you’re out.” Pruning, however, is not like that at all. It’s an act of care that brings life to the whole organism. Applying the metaphor to the cultivation of community, let us trust that our Gardener God is our partner in discerning how we can best flourish and bear fruit. God guides us in making crucial choices—what to let go of or clear away, what to trim or redirect, what to embrace and encourage.

During this time that I am away from the day-to-day life of First Church, I know we will remain connected in the vine. I will be praying for you, as I trust you will be for me. And with a body that’s more rested, a head that’s less cluttered, a perspective that’s more expansive and creative, I will be ruminating about our life together. I will be wondering and pondering—how can we continue to choose community in a world that seems bent on instead choosing greed, violence, and polarization? How can we get free from the “grind,” from the rhythms of exhaustion, cynicism, exploitation, and burnout, that are so baked into this culture in which we live? How can we do our work together with more ease? How can be fruitful, how can we make a meaningful difference by embracing a spirit of joy, and creativity, and collaboration? 

I’ll close with a few words of singer/ songwriter Carrie Newcomer, from her song, simply titled “Abide”:

Oh abide with me

Where it’s breathless and it’s empty

Yes abide with me

And we’ll pass the evening gently

Stay awake with me

And we’ll listen more intently

To something wordless and remaining

Sure and ever changing

In the quietness of now

Let us ponder the unknown

What is hidden and what’s whole

And finally learn to travel

At the speed of our own souls

There is a living water

A spirit cutting through

Always changing always making

All things new 


[1] https://www.mprnews.org/story/2024/04/15/chawhammer-mike-stone-arch-bridge-closure-minneapolis

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-john-151-8-4

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-john-151-8-3