In life, succession is everything. Ponder for a moment that everything you have is something you possess from another. From the DNA in your cells to the possessions we claim as our own, from the moment of our birth to the moment of our death, all that we know and all that we "own" is continually passing through our hands. It comes from someone, passes to us and then we hand it on to others. Some people call it "legacy" and others call it "inheritance." It isn't an easy concept to embrace when as individuals or societies we assume we can "own" something. Ownership is at its base an illusion. We can possess something for a time, but eventually we will have to give it up. Even if we wear something out...say, run a car until it is "worthless" and no longer is useful to us; there is still the scrap heap, the parts that can be salvaged and even the basic materials it is constructed of that someone else will make use of in the long run.
As I Samuel opens, we meet three people who will shortly alter the course of Israel's experience of God in the wake of the close of the age of the Judges. Hannah is a woman without children who suffers because of that fact at the hands of her husband's other wife. Eli is a priest who with his family serves God at the shrine in Shiloh. Both meet in the third person of this triangle the child Samuel...and their lives will never be the same. Hannah prays to God for a son, one whom she can then dedicate to God as a nazirite. Eli, an embodiment of the way we can too often assume privilege means security, winds up blessing this woman...and thereby receives the "gift" of Samuel as a servant and helper in the temple. Samuel, when he is still a boy, is called by God to deliver a word of judgement to Eli: his sons have disgraced his legacy of service and thus have lost God's favor. In Samuel, God's word finds a place to rest...and in him the age of kings and prophets commences. As important as Samuel is as a prophet, though...we cannot forget that his life is a bridge from one age to another...his ministry and his witness will unfold and enhance the lesson that God's Word is always moving from one generation to another, from one set of hands to another. Our walk with God is always about succession.
That same succession is the main focus of Jesus farewell discourse...this chapters long speech he offers to his disciples in John that is all about handing over to his followers the knowledge of God's intent to use them to inform the Church, and future generations in the ways they should go as they seek to serve and follow God. Jesus' image of that succession is of the vine producing grapes in the vineyard. That vine is a complex of grafts needing to abide in each other in order to bear good fruit. Jesus is the trunk, and the disciples are the branches. God's word gives them life, and with that life they bear fruit so that others may know the love Jesus is giving them as his legacy.
It gives me pause to think on these things: God's grace is not something that we can ever possess. It is only something we can hope to pass on to others. That is the lesson of the image of the vine, and the example of Eli's fall from grace and Samuel's succession as the chosen servant of God.
My prayer today is that God continue to remind us of our role as conduits of grace...and that grace is, and never will be, our possession.