O Blessed Spring
A Bible Study Inspired by a Hymn
Text: Susan Palo Cherwien, b. 1953
(Lutheran Service Book 595)
(Primary Biblical References: John 15:1–5; Genesis 2:9; Revelation 22:14)
O blessed spring, where Word and sign
Embrace us into Christ the Vine:
Here Christ enjoins each one to be
A branch of this life-giving Tree.
Through summer heat of youthful years,
Uncertain faith, rebellious tears,
Sustained by Christ’s infusing rain,
The boughs will shout for joy again.
Susan Cherwien contemplates a new hymn text
at the writing desk in her St. Louis Park, Minnesota, home.
Photo credit: Mike Sherer
When autumn cools and youth is cold,
When limbs their heavy harvest hold,
Then through us, warm, the Christ will move
With gifts of beauty, wisdom, love.
As winter comes, as winter must,
We breathe our last, return to dust;
Still held in Christ, our souls take wing
And trust the promise of the spring.
Christ, holy Vine, Christ, living Tree,
Be praised for this blest mystery:
That Word and water thus revive
And join us to Your Tree of Life.
Normally I would start a study like this out with a little something about the author of the text. However, as I researched Susan Palo Cherwien, I came across an article in the MetroLutheran, which does such a fine job that I’m just providing the link. (MetroLutheran Article) It also provides a little background for “O Blessed Spring.” Though the text is a new one for us, the Commission on Worship paired it with a tune we know so there should be no learning curve.
Jesus used many parables, stories, and analogies in His ministry of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation. In John 15:1-5 he uses one based on a vine.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)
There is no doubt that Jesus is the vine in the image. Jesus is speaking to his disciples so, when he says “you are the branches,” he is referring to his followers, those who believe in him. This connection to Jesus is brought about by pure grace. The word of Christ has cleansed us. The fruit we bear is only because we are connected to the vine. Indeed, Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing.”
The hymn explores this relationship throughout our life. Verse one deals with our childhood. Verse two deals with our teen years and maybe 20s. Verse three would be our adult years, 30 through maybe 60 or so. Verse four is in reference to our “golden” years. Verse five wraps things up by praising God that, no matter what age we are, we are joined to the vine through water and the word.
Jesus says the relationship between the believer and himself is that he abides in those who believe in him and they abide in him. In this way, the branches (believers) become very productive. This relationship is brought about when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Christ through his Gospel. Through the “Means of Grace” (Word and Sacrament) our faith is created, sustained and strengthened for that is how the Holy Spirit brings to us the Gospel. Cherwien most clearly refers to this relationship in her first and last verses. In verse one we sing of “Word and sign.” While the “sign” could be either Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, as this is a baptismal hymn we would expect baptism to be in the foreground without discounting the Lord’s Supper. Then the last verse has the phrase “that Word and water thus revive.” This is most certainly a reference to baptism (Ephesians 5:26). So it is by the Word and Sacraments that we receive “Christ’s infusing rain.” They are the means by which we abide in Jesus.
The same Holy Spirit who has brought us to faith in Jesus also gives us the blessing of living the Christian life that Jesus taught; this includes sharing the Gospel and reaching out to help those who are hurting. Such works do not earn any part of our salvation, but in some way they are blessed in heaven, as we read in Revelation 14:13.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)
The fundamental issue in good works is our faith-relationship with Jesus, created by the Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament. Many non-Christians do good things in society. These, though, are not “good works” in the eyes of God for Jesus says, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In Hebrews we read, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (11:6). So, no matter how nice the works of the non-Christian might look, in God’s sight such works are worthless. So, in our hymn, our whole life as “branches” is dependent on being connected to the “vine.”
And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)
In Genesis 2:9 we read about two special trees found in the Garden of Eden, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (17), however they did. Thus sin entered into the world. Adam and Eve knew intellectually the difference between good and evil before eating from the tree. “Good” was to trust and obey God. “Evil” was to not trust God and disobey him. The “knowledge” from eating the forbidden fruit was the knowledge of experiencing turning away from God, experiencing disobeying God, experiencing trusting in something other than God for what is best.
Adam and Eve were barred from the Garden and the Tree of Life. However, by grace through faith, the way to the Tree of Life is open to Christians.
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14)
Here John tells us that the Tree of Life is waiting for us in heaven. Christians are wearing white robes, which symbolize we have been purified by the blood of Christ. This occurs in our baptism (1 Corinthians 6:11), which has continuing power throughout our lives. Through God’s grace, we are baptized believers who believe Jesus lived a perfect life for us and paid for our sins on Calvary’s cross. Because of this, we will be there.
This eternal value of our baptism, indeed of the Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is expressed in verse 4 where our death is sung of (the “winter” verse) in light of the promises we received in the spring of our lives. The promises made endure, not only in this life, but beyond this life to all eternity.