Friendship is the molten core of the Gospel of John and is the molten core of our faith. Not worship. Not service. Not Advocacy of the poor in money or faith. Not church buildings. Not organs or choirs. Not vestries or Bishop’s edicts. Not memos. Not feasts nor fasts. Friendship.
Jesus is saying farewell in these chapters. He is trying to explain what is to happen next. He is explaining that an “Advocate” will come alongside the people whose grief at Jesus’ departure will be terrible and confusing. We are not really sure what the Holy Spirit” is, so we tend to politely avoid the subject by changing it. But today’s gospel is focused entirely ion the Holy Spirit.
Definition of companion
2 obsolete : rascal
3a : one that is closely connected =one employed to live with and serve another
4 : a celestial body that appears close to another but that may or may not be associated with it in space
Com-panion = with bread
Jesus is our companion. Another way to see it, as a friend of mine recently mentioned, is “messmate.”
As you have known me, you know that I like to cook. I like to eat and I like to eat with a friend. Last night I had a friend over for crab cakes, bread, cheeses and an Argentinian wine. The night before last I had a different friend over for scallops pan seared in a chili dredge and served over a basil pesto pasta with bread and a vino verde. You get the picture. I like to break bread with a friend.
I was a monk of a monastery of Johanine scholars. We spent hours digging into John’s gospel – trying to crack the codes. I had given away all my possessions at 40 – not an easy feat. I entered a cloister believing that giving my life to Jesus was what Jesus wanted and what I wanted. I entered with a suitcase and no bank account and three years later, after the novitiate, I left. I remember sitting on my bed in my cell, packing my suitcase when one of the other monks arrived to say goodbye. We were both disillusioned and were both leaving – in fact all six of us ended up leaving. I was brokenhearted at the cruelty, neglect and abuse I found there and was weepy. My brother said something which made it all make sense. He said, very softly with a hand on mine to still it “Charles, you came here because you wanted 27 close friends with whom to love Jesus. But what you never understood is that we are here because we are terrible at friendship. We are monks because being locked behind this gate is the only way we do not feel alone. But you are different. You love friendship and are good at it. So leave this place. Go make friends. Be friends. Here we eat a quick meals so that we can get back to church, six times each day. Go. Make beautiful meals. Sit with friends. Burn the candles down over six hours. Jesus will be at your dining room table just as he is here at these monastery altars. So go. And be joyful.”
It was one of those defining moments when the world seems to stop spinning. As if every leaf and bug, bird and creature on the planet just paused for a second.
In a few days I’ll be in Scotland at the home of my friend John Philip Newell and his wife Ali. Ill be in their home breaking bread at their dining room table in Edinburgh and then we will make our way cross to the Island of Mull and then to the Island of Iona to sit together in retreat. We will pic nic at holy wells and hike across barren landscapes and we will do plenty of keening in abbey ruins.
There are two key words in the Gospel of John which unlock its meaning. One is the verb “to know” and the other is the noun “the world.” When John’s gospel call us to “know” the Holy Spirit it means we are to be in relationship with it. Not worship it. Not sing about it. Not talk about it in forums. To be friends with the advocate. The word use din the Gospel for the Holy Spirit is directly translated as “friend who comes alongside.” But have you ever made a close friend without spending time sitting with them? Eating with them? Being com-pan-ions together? Our efforts to endow this church are not in order to establish a monument to our egos. Our efforts to endow this church are in order to maintain a meeting house for friends in an ego-driven world hostile to the vulnerability of friendship.
The second key word in the gospel is “Friend.” In the next chapter Jesus will radically call us his “friends” which really messed with the hierarchy then as it messes with it now. In John’s gospel, the ultimate “showing” of Jesus is not the transfiguration as it is in other gospels. It is instead the raising of his friend, Lazarus from the dead.
We, in the church, often think that the great culmination is the Resurrection – Easter and that everything else points to it. No we wait another year till it happens again. NO. No. The resurrection is not the culmination of the end of sin. The resurrection is the inauguration of radical friendship.
The church, like government and the military, has become a vast bureaucracy
which is crumbling before our very eyes as new generations want new ways of being friends. Vestries, clergy and bishops are running around managing when what we should be doing is sitting and listening to The Holy Spirit in our morning thinking-time and in our conversations over the breaking of bread.
What if the bread and wine we take and eat were not so much about taking Jesus into our body? What if we got that wrong over the centuries? What is unfriendly clergy made all that up? What if the meal for which we come together at the altar is about com-pan-ionship. Being together – being mess-mates with each other as friends and with Jesus who comes to us as friend?
The classic image of the Latin church in Rome is Peter with the keys in his tight fist. But the Celtic image is of John laying his head on Jesus in the middle of an important meal and falling asleep listening to God’s heartbeat. That must have been really annoying to the disciples who had planned to be bishops and cardinals, Deans and Sub-deans, Canons and Archdeacons. How infuriating it must have been for the designers of church to see Jesus allow his friend to lay in his lap and sleep on his chest as a part of breaking bread and drinking wine? I know. These musings infuriate my high-church friends and probably the Bishops’ hierarchy. But that is just a side benefit. It’s not why I says these things. I say these things because I believe that you and I do not need to be holy. We need to be friends. And we need to welcome the Holy Spirit as friend – she wants to guide us. She wants to encourage us. She wants to argue on our behalf in ecclesial courts of law. She wants to companion us.
Jesus did not want us to be alone. So He sent Her. But we are so busy acquiring or maintaining status, power and possessions that we look past her to an empty cross waiting for divine power. Well, stop waiting. Divine power has chosen to sit next to you. Wn’t you please lay your head on her chest and weep, and listen?
In the Daily Sip is now on its own web site with 3,000 readers and is published on Episcopal Café every Sunday read by hundreds of thousands monthly. In tonight’s meditation is say this:
“My life, your life; is the clay. God is molding our lives every day as we spin through Her divine fingers. Less and less do I believe in “the church,” but as that transformation occurs, unbidden and unstoppable, I seem to believe in Jesus all the more passionately.”