Friends gathered around me recently and hosted me for dinner. They made me a meal, poured me scotch – expensive scotch, even though they knew I could not taste it – and then, after dinner, they sat me down with evident excitement and read to me as the cool night air poured in through an open door. They had written down how much they love me. They had written down what they saw in me – beauty, kindness, hospitality – things I too could see – well, sometimes, but have rarely heard people recite the way they did. Paragraph after paragraph they read on and on, reading as if an epitaph or a Eulogy except the words were to me. “you are…” you have….” It was as if I had been seen for the first time.
The healing which can happen because friends tell friends what beauty they see in them can convert the poisons of the planet’s human and relational violence into honey for the mouth and oil for the head. There will always be people out there willing to toss grenades your way – angry children, resentful spouses, insecure bosses. The power to make lists to dominate or shame or hurt is given to them, and they will often use it. However, the power of the sacrament of friendship is a secret force of nature too often untapped -a force which will be an antidote to the evils of this world. The evil priests and politicians charged Jesus – lies all – but it worked. For three days. And then something wonderful happened.
In Easter God gathers humanity as friends. Through Jesus, God gathers those He or She calls “friends.”
John 15:15New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
15 I do not call you servants[a] any longer, because the servant[b] 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.
We translate the word “servants” and yet, in the Greek it is clearly “slaves.” In the Easter moment hierarchy is destroyed because it is a part of the death God destroys in the act of salvation. Sure, hierarchy will still creep in from time to time because it is used to control and manipulate by those whose lack of character, kindness, charisma or integrity makes control a last resort. But what would life be like is the reality of God’s friendship were something we embraced in Easter?
There is so much work done in Lent. “I am giving up this. I am taking on that. I am wearing this black, grey, tan or purple.” But what do we take on or give up in Easter? What is that Easter version of discipline? What is our discipline of joy to match our discipline of shame or guilt? After 40 days in black, might not clergy switch to pink cassocks, or yellow, or sky blue or white? After 40 days of fasting, what might 40 days of feasting look like? After spending Lent in our closets with weak unsweetened tea considering and confessing our sins, why not spend the 40 days of Easter in our gardens with ice-cream. considering and confessing our love and appreciation – telling our friends how wonderful they are in our eyes?
Friendship is hard work… Time needs to be set aside. Shopping needs to be done. Meals need to be prepared. Furniture needs to be dusted. Letters need to be written. Gifts need to be made. Hearts need to be opened.
Friendship requires self-offering. Friendship requires creativity. Friendship requires effort. Friendship even requires a wellness of being which allows for these things to emerge. The exhausted, the controlling, the fearful, the angry, the addicted, the resentful, the manipulative – these characteristics in a human drag on friendship like so many anchors dragging behind a boat. And yet, the irony is that it is friendship which also heals those things – cuts the chains to those dragging anchors.
So today, I sit basking in the warmth of my friends’ epistles to me. It warms me like a hot hearth on a cold day. And I wonder who among my other friends needs such an epistle written by me for them? How might I pass on Easter joy and kindness with the same ferocity with which I soaked in Lent? How might you? How might we?