What a friend we have in Jesus–Lectionary Reflections for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year B

This week’s readings are here.

“What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.”

This familiar hymn from my child (text by Joseph Scriven) always comes to mind when I think of Jesus as “friend.” The promise of friendship here is that of protector and shield, someone to turn to when times get tough and when you’re rejected by those around you. It’s full of the piety of nineteenth century Evangelicalism and I remember how total my reaction against it was as I was growing up. The hymn emphasizes human frailty, sin, and weakness, and depicts Jesus as someone who

Jesus as friend evokes all of those images of someone like oneself but stronger; someone whose love persists in spite of whatever I might do. I also find it somewhat problematic to think of God in terms such as friend–after all, the intimacy implied in the term seems to bring God down to an all-too-human level.

So I find thinking of Jesus as friend deeply problematic. This week’s gospel reading challenges us to rethink that imagery, what it means and how we use. It’s not that John 15 provides biblical warrant for “What a friend we have in Jesus;” rather, it articulates a much deeper understanding of that relationship.

In a culture where “friending” and “unfriending” can be as casual as it is on facebook, recapturing the appropriate meaning of friendship can be a powerful theological, and ecclesial obligation. What greater contrast to facebook is there than:

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

The gospel of John sees a developing relationship between Jesus and his followers, from master and servant, teacher and disciple, to friend. The intimacy of the relationship implied in that simple, common term, is much more than a facebook friendship or even the relationship of two people who have grown up together or gone to school together. It is the intimacy of love; again, of abiding in one another. It is the intimacy of the Trinity–the inter-relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is also the intimacy of the Last Supper, when the Beloved Disciple reclined next to Jesus, when Jesus took up towel and basin, and washed his disciples’ feet, when he told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love each other as I have loved you.” It is the intimacy of John’s gospel, the intimacy of John 13:1 “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

The friendship of Jesus is not the easy breezy relationship with someone who you like to have a beer with. Jesus’ friendship, his love, culminated in the cross. Our friendship, our love for Jesus, calls us to lay down our lives as well, for him and for the love of the world.

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