Jesus of Nazareth; the Gospels; the Church; the resurrection. They are all about a fundamental change in relationships. No longer are people sin-ridden failures doomed to misery in both this life and the next. The Church, a fresh community of faith open to all, brings all kinds of people in new relationship to both God and one another. The resurrection leads to a continuing engagement with Jesus beyond what everyone had thought was the end. Who we are; who we are with God; who we are with one another, all changes in the good news of Jesus Christ.
Before Good Friday we find in the Gospel of John a small clue to all this change. Jesus says to his inner circle of followers, “no longer do I call you servants… I have called you friends”. Of course there is the risk of a trite response to this dramatic statement. The words “what a friend we have in Jesus” can make it sound as though friendship is sentimental relationship, a cosy get-together of the like-minded. I wonder if that is your experience of friendship? It’s not mine. Friends can often seem to others to be unlikely pairings. It can be as much about shared history as shared interests. The disciples weren’t like Jesus in so many ways, but they’d been with him through thick and thin. Three years of difficult, challenging and discomforting experience.
It seems a strange idea to be friends with a figure of the Trinity. Jesus is the human expression of that deep longing in the heart of God for us to have fullness of life. Not a fullness of life brought about by a click of the divine fingers, but a life worked on throughout our lives, lived and refined in the furnace of human experience in the company of Christ. Thinking along these lines several Christian commentators look to the image in the Old Testament book of Daniel (3:25) of the three figures forced into a furnace which miraculously doesn’t harm them. If you recall the story you will also know that the figures forced into the fire were joined by a mysterious fourth person. Even in our deepest fears and pain, we do not need to be alone. Friends of all sorts stand with us – and perhaps even those we never thought of as friends greet us unexpectedly.
New relationships – and a God who stands with us. It’s something powerfully demonstrated in Acts 10. Peter is in the house of someone who wasn’t Jewish. To this point it had been widely assumed that the Good News of Jesus Christ was for the chosen people – the Jews. But through the encounter Peter has with Cornelius a changed relationship is revealed. Peter perceives that God is calling these people to be baptised – to make real the understanding of God that Jesus revealed: that God “shows no partiality”. His friendship and love are open to all, equally. Open to the people we like and those we don’t; the close neighbour and those far away. We may not always think it or feel it, but this was and is a profoundly radical way to create a new community.
Friends have obligations. We don’t ignore our friends – we try to help them. We see the best in them and encourage them to grow. We get to know the friends of our friends. The friendship Jesus extends to the disciples, to us, brings communion with all sorts of people. These people are friends of our friend – and together we share in the work he has called us to do, loving God and serving those to whom we are sent.