Jesus said ‘I have called your friends.’ It was a testament to the power of friendship, and perhaps the insulating properties of alcohol that on the May Day Bank Holiday with the wind blowing and the rain falling that there were still people sat outside the Brown Cow having a drink.
It’s good news that doors that were once closed are opening again. We have missed those gatherings with friends we once took for granted.
Perhaps we have re-learned through this pandemic the value of friendship. Maybe old friendships have been re-kindled as we have rediscovered their value and along the way we have found new ways to nurture our friendships. For friendship matters.
My cell group made up of four dear friends and fellow priests whom many of you know is hugely important to me. And though we have had to meet remotely over the pandemic we have re-made our rituals. So instead of going out for a curry at the beginning of our twice yearly 48 hours together, we’ve had a virtual curry via the internet.
The friendship I share with them is one of the treasures of my life, it is priceless in its value. We have shared so much. Carried one another’s burdens. Loved and laughed. Challenged and consoled. We hope to meet in person again soon and there will likely be tears I have missed my brothers.
So, friendship is a great gift that is hard to define yet means so much. It is then no accident that Jesus in this remarkable 15th Chapter of John’s Gospel reflects in part at least on this theme of friendship.
Through his life with his followers there came friendship. So that, he ‘does not call’ them ‘servants’ but ‘friends.’ And such was the depth of their friendship that Jesus speaks of laying down his ‘life for his friends.’
And just as last week when we explored the imagery of abiding and becoming, of vines and of bearing fruit, in the section before us the imagery takes us into the territory of friendship.
And offers us the opportunity to reflect both on the friendships we have with one another, and also the friendship we have with God.
For it was St. Gregory of Nyssa who in the fourth century wrote, that ‘the only thing worthy of honour and desire is becoming God’s friend.’
I’ve been intrigued and challenged by these words since I first encountered them and explored their meaning. ‘the only thing worthy of honour and desire is becoming God’s friend’.
I’ve come to understand these words as an invitation. For if we take friendship to mean a sharing of one’s life, mindful that the best of friends will not just share the edited highlights but the depths of who we are – then growing into that kind of intimate relationship, that kind of friendship with God is indeed ‘worthy of honour and desire’.
Over the last year I’ve been spending time every few weeks via Zoom with a Spiritual Friend. She’s been gently guiding me in my journey of growing in friendship with God.
She has encouraged me to use my imagination, to write and reflect. To push me, asking where God is at work in my life? What have I learned of God through this or that experience?
She has reminded me time and again that God is much more than an idea, or a concept. She has helped me understand new ways of knowing that God is here with us amidst the everyday and ordinary.
Its been helpful because I think there was and is a part of me that resists being too personal about God and just saying God knows.
Whilst that is true, God does know – the danger in saying that is that God stays as an idea, an argument rather than a friend, a friend with whom I share the deepest longings of my heart.
And here I think we get close to why Jesus might use this intimate language of friendship for whether we have faith or not almost every one of us would say that one of the blessings of life is friendship.
Yet he invites us to ponder the image further, to think about becoming God’s friends and how that might open new possibilities for us.
Both for our life with God but also more widely as we think of the kind of community Jesus calls us to build, for we are I think called to build a community rooted in friendship.
This deep friendship was present in the Christian Church from its beginnings, Jesus called his disciples friends, and his disciples cultivated friendship with those whom they were given.
Today’s first reading is a good example, as we hear of Peter becoming friends with the Gentiles, with those who were once the outsiders. He was not just interested in who they had been but in who they were becoming.
And perhaps that is a good question to ask ourselves as a community, where are we going, post pandemic, what kind of community are we to become?
In so many ways the pandemic has shown this community at St. Mary’s at its best, friendships have been sustained, and even grown and deepened.
Yet as we return glad to see one another again there comes a renewed opportunity to continue to build a community rooted in friendship. Friendship with God. Friendship with one another. Friendship with young and old. Friendship with all.
We are thankful for the friendships that are beyond price, for those who pick us up when we fall, who laugh with us, and who cry with us.
These friends draw us close to God, who works through those we have been given and invites us to know that friendship with God is not for holy sorts, or people who say the right things but for all of us.
Jesus said ‘I have called you friends’.
May we grow in friendship with him and one another and make this a community populated by God’s friends.