Somehow or other, in these Easter weeks we keep encountering the telling of a storythe story of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. This is the story which has to be intertwined with my own story which also has to be told. Jesus story must never be dislocated from my own. In addition we should never forget that the telling of my story is an integral part of the praise rendered to God in the world in which I live.

So, the Acclamation of THIS SUNDAY’S PSALM [21or 22]: “You, Lord, are my praise in the great assembly.” This adds real meaning to words from the closing stanza: “… they shall tell of the Lord … declare his faithfulness … these things the Lord has done.”

Then, in our FIRST SCRIPTURE [ACTS 9: 26 – 31] we are told that to begin with the disciples were more than suspicious about Saul. It was only as a result of Barnabas telling the story of the Lord’s appearance to Saul on the road to Damascus that their fears abated. We know from other sources that Saul himself was not shy about telling the same story, intertwined with his own. In addition, today’s extract tells us that the apostle preached fearlessly in the name of the Lord.

Here, words from the SECOND READING [1 JOHN 3: 18 – 24] have a real value. “Our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active; only by this can we be certain.” Certainty comes fromtruth. Barnabas story was truthful, and so was Saul’s.

In all of this, SUNDAY’S GOSPEL [JOHN 3: 18 – 24] should be an enormous encouragement.

To begin with I want to quote some words from yet another book I have recently been reading: We are a fragile people and I feel accepted as part of that fragility, part of a group that has enormous gifts … and purpose within it. … When I feel frail, when I feel useless, I still have a sense of belonging. I don’t believe the (Church) is a place for perfect people or a preserve for men (and women) of steel. It is not an arena for gladiators, but a home to a crowd of sinners … Sin is part of our story, as redemption is. … More importantly, (it) is also (provides) for growth and renewal, a field of possibility.”{DENIS McBRIDE: Waiting on God: Redemptorist Publications: Pages 31 & 32}

Now we should be able to better understand and appreciate “I am the vine, you are the branches … every branch that does not bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more … a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain a part of the vine.”

The essential message (often not mentioned in sermons) of this Gospel extract is the fact that in order to grow and develop our discipleship we must work on a personal relationship with Jesus. The extract itself is a part of the Lord’s Last Supper discourse in which he made the statement “I have called you friends.” Yes, he IS all of Lord … Master … Saviour – but he is also FRIEND! Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is my friend. I MUST BE HIS FRIEND!

If we study, carefully, the Gospel as recorded by all fourevangelists we should be able to recognise the fact that there existed between Jesus Christ and his disciples an intimacy and ordinariness in their daily relationship – there was an ease (even though the Lord challenged them), a cooperation, a mutual acceptance, a common purpose and enterprise (even though the disciples often misunderstood the ramifications thereof!).

Yet, apart from HIM the disciples were nothing. This fact is clearly stated in our Gospel extract. If we look at the words emphasised in the previous paragraph, they should provide a number of enriching reflections. Nevertheless, in some strange way, Jesus needed the disciples. We need the Lord. Friends NEED each other. Friendship is always a two-way street.

The Risen Christ needs us to produce his fruit – but we need him in order to do so!

Christian discipleship is not about passive following. Rather, it is about an essential interaction. Far too often a misplaced commitment to merely following the rules and regulations impoverishes the intimacy involved in a true discipleship.

As I emphasised in a Retreat “we need to be wise, not merely well informed.” It is not enough to simply know his words. His words must REMAIN in us, and we must REMAIN in him.