Our gospel reading is taken from the low point in Jesus' ministry. Soon, he will go to Gethsemane and on to the Cross. John does not portray Jesus' agony. Instead, John portrays the truth about Jesus. And the truth is that in his last hours Jesus came to see his disciples in a new way. He gives them the commandment to love one another, and he says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father."
In the early seventies, Carole King sang, "You've Got a Friend."
When you're down and troubled,
And you need some loving care.
And nothing, nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me.
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night.
That's the spirit of the Maundy Thursday Revolution, begun by Jesus "on the night before he died for us." When Jesus bent over to wash his disciples' feet, he started a personal and social revolution that would conquer the mighty Roman Empire. It's a revolution that we carry on every Sunday when we break bread together in the eucharist.
Those first disciples had planned to follow Jesus to the top of the heap and sit upon thrones in his kingdom. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the man on top got down on the bottom and began to wash the feet of his followers --incredible! What's this all about? It was unlike anything they could have imagined. The man they thought would be king was kneeling at their feet!
It would be awhile before they would discover the answer. The next day their leader was gone, and they were dispersed. Their illusions shattered and their hopes dashed, they needed some light for their darkness. That's when it happened --Jesus, the one who had called them friend, was there to brighten up this darkest of nights. Over the centuries, many of us have had the same experience -- in the midst of the darkest night, we discover a needed friend.
Jesus calls us friends, but what is friendship with Jesus all about? Respect for elders seems to be out of fashion these days, but it used to be a sign of adulthood when your parents friends adopted you as their friend by asking you to drop the Mr./Mrs. and call them by their first name. John does not say the disciples began to call Jesus by his first name, but it must have been something like that. Like the parable of the wedding table Jesus invites the disciples to take the seats of honor saying, "Friend, come up higher."
This image of friendship with God may seem rather commonplace to some, but for many it comes as a stunning realization. We may have an image of God as judge which is turned on its ear when we see that the judge is our friend. "It's not what you know, but who you know," and Christians really know somebody. During the Olympic Games in Atlanta, I remember how excited the family and friends of the team members got when one of their own won a medal. Part of it, of course, is genuine good wishes for the competitor, but who among us wouldn't just love to say, "Hey, this is my friend the Olympic Gold Medalist."
How much more then should we celebrate the Resurrection, the crowning glory of our Lord's Journey to the Cross? No contest was more difficult. No struggle required more courage, endurance and character, and no athlete would ever be equal to the challenge. And we have the privilege, indeed some would say the duty, to introduce Jesus to people we know, and say, "Hey, this is my friend, the Messiah!" It's embarrassing to say it that way because having Jesus as a friend is a matter for gratitude not pride, but it's easy to forget.
Perhaps, its because we've come to take this relationship for granted, perhaps, our relationship is just superficial, but here are some of the things that can happen when we open ourselves to a real friendship with Jesus.
Friends want the same things. I'm not talking about superficial things like sharing tastes in food or sports. I'm not even talking about sharing common values like honesty, kindness, generosity and openness. Real friends must share themselves in such a way that the well-being of the one depends on the fulfillment of the deepest longings of the other. Friendship with Jesus means that our own happiness is bound up with the fulfillment of Jesus' deepest desires. And Jesus' deepest desire, the thing for which he gave everything was the reconciliation of every human being to himself and to one another.
Second, friends speak their minds to each other openly, fully, and without fear. Real friends cannot withhold their true feelings, thoughts, desires, and expectations from each other and still maintain the strength and truthfulness of their relationship. That means we do not worry about the suitability of our prayer. It is folly not to tell Jesus about your anger, to try to pretend that you don't have feelings you have. So much of our prayer time seems empty because we hold back everything that has meaning for us. Share your deepest desires even when you think you will disappoint your friend. Jesus can take it. That's what the Cross was all about.
Third, friends hold each other accountable. Some people think that a loving God cannot be a judging God, but real friends expect a lot of each other. What your friend does matters to you. We expect our friend to be faithful to the friendship, and to keep his or her promises. It is important that we spend time developing our friendship with Jesus. We cannot just assume that Jesus will go the extra mile and take care of our relationship, Jesus is not co-dependent. He never takes on more than his share of the friendship.
Finally, friends need each other. There can be no friendship where one person is powerless and vulnerable while the other holds all the power, has no needs, and is invulnerable to hurt from the other. In Jesus, God chose to cast his lot with us, so what we do matters to him. Jesus needed his disciples to carry on his work, and he needs us today. Of course, he'll carry on without us, but the loss of a friendship is deeply painful to Jesus. If we want to have genuine friendship with Jesus, we must spend as much time asking what we can do for him, as we do telling him what he can do for us.
The invitation to friendship with Jesus is a challenging one. Jesus became like us, that we might become like him. Jesus has called us his friends. As Jesus' friends, we want to be like him, we want to listen and respond to him. We want to walk with him in the cool of the evening, friend with friend, to sit and rest a while, to love and be with one another, to know a peace and silence in the company of God. Let it be, Friend Jesus, let it be. Amen.