The rows of grapes for wine were overabundant, the local U-pick farm email said. They were now available for the public. Each year, I go to pick strawberries at the same farm. I try to go early in the morning when there are few people, because picking strawberries is a time of worship for me. Even if it rains the night before, the straw on the ground, abundantly packed between rows, absorbs the water, keeping puddles or mud at bay. I like the quiet and being able to kneel down to grab clusters of bright red strawberries waiting on the plants. But my afternoon with the grapes in early August would be different.
With no clouds to block the sun, the air was beastly hot. With no breeze blowing, the humidity hung heavily in the air. Dripping with sweat, I planned to pick quickly and then leave.
This would be different. I eagerly drove to the farm not knowing what to expect.
The farm’s winery is a few years old, and I had walked through the rows before. I had picked leaves from each of the three varieties of grapes, red, black, and concord, to make dye for fabric, but this would be my first time harvesting the grapes themselves.
Would the grapes be easy to reach? How many bunches would I be allowed to pick? What kinds of grapes are good both for wine and for fresh eating? Lots of questions followed me along the narrow, two-lane road through the Indiana countryside.
Easing my car into the nearly empty gravel parking lot, I entered the little store on the grounds, where visitors pay for fresh-picked strawberries and purchase vegetables, homemade jams and jellies, pies, ice cream, and fudge.
“I’m here to pick grapes,” I said to the young lady working at the counter. She smiled, handing me a large woven basket and a pair of yellow-handled scissors.
Eagerly, I went out the door into the humid summer air. I lifted a thin net covering the vines and ducked underneath. The leaves were plentiful and hid the grapes clustered in the middle of the row.
Unlike strawberries, that sat in the sun waiting to be picked, grapes are a little more elusive. To find them, I had to separate the leaves to reveal clusters buried in the middle of the plant. The grapes were at eye-level. I could stand and move up and down the row, poking my hands through the vines, searching through the dense leaves.
Putting my basket on the ground freed my hands to cut the small bunches of grapes that were ripe and ready to eat. When I chose a cluster of grapes, the vine was difficult to cut. I wished for sharper scissors. I held the cluster in one hand and made repeated attempts to finally cut the grapes from the vine. I expected the grapes to be larger. The grapes’ surface was smooth and came in varying shades of purple and red. I filled my basket a quarter full and decided that was enough. After all, I didn’t know how the grapes tasted and I didn’t want to throw them away after I got home if I didn’t like them.
Ducking out from under the netting, I stood up with my basket under my arm and walked toward the store ready to pay. When I arrived at the concrete porch of the farm store, I put my basket on a picnic table, so I could take a picture of my grape harvest in the basket with the scissors.
After I paid and began driving home, I remembered Jesus’ words from John 15:5 – “I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.”
I had experienced these words during my time in the vineyard.
These words of Jesus came alive in me in a way I had not experienced. I thought I was going to pick grapes and I encountered the Living Word. Picking grapes was not only a new activity, it also provided a new encounter with God.
I touched the vine...I touched Jesus.
I parted the leaves to gather grapes...I felt Jesus.
Jesus is in me...I am in Jesus.
My time in the vineyard was like communion. When I participate in communion at church, it is a time of renewal. When I drove home from the farm with a bunch of grapes, I felt refreshed and energized with the peace of God’s presence.
Bearing fruit has always been a focus in my life as I try to spread God’s love as I go. Recently, though, I’ve been learning to pause more in God’s presence as I did on the porch of the farm store. Much like parting the leaves among the grape vines, I’m waiting to see the fruit that will emerge from my time abiding with God.