Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Deeper Friendship

Mary Encounters Jesus in the Garden,
Jesus Mafa, Cameroon, 1973
During this strange time of social distancing, isolation and free-floating anxiety, I’ve been reading again the passages just after Christ’s resurrection.

He had told his followers he would die, and had said “greater love has no one than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.”  Those friends, anxious and grieving, encountered him in deeper friendship when he met them in their grief and gently turned that grief to joy.

Mary was the first: Mary in the garden, ready to care for his battered body, stunned to meet her risen friend.

Then there’s that encounter on the beach, recorded in John: Jesus tending a fire, cooking fish, asking Peter: “Do you love me?”

That story is so familiar we might miss the incredible strangeness: a man who dies, was buried, now asking a friend: “Do you love me?” Not once. Three times. Inviting Peter into a deeper, demanding, life-altering friendship.

I can look back across my own life and see times of invitation: the night when I was sixteen and I thought my grandmother, my sole parent and guardian, was going to die of a sudden heart attack. An excruciating bout of viral pleurisy four hot August days in an un-air-conditioned Philly apartment. The morning in a pediatric ICU when the doctors’ voices went quiet and they asked me to sign off on a new, untested procedure for my limp, tiny child. The first week leading a mission trip in Kensington, where I somehow encountered poison ivy and slept maybe four hours in six anxious night.

In each of those moments, and many more, I heard the invitation: will you trust me? Do you love me? Will you let me be your friend?We really don’t have words for the kind of friendship Christ invites us to: a friendship of total honesty, painful humility, full obedience. 

A friendship where we're given glimpses of the world as it’s creator sees it: a place of beauty, of brokenness, of limitless grace. 

A friendship that shows us that this life, these times and treasures we hold so dear, are just a chapter in an unfolding story: lovely, loved, but never the final word.   

Harold Copping, Britain, 1910
I’ve been feeling that invitation in these recent weeks. There are days so gray I find it hard to breath and find my solace in that ever-deepening friendship. There are days when I struggle with the beauty of a cool, lasting spring, set against the stories of sickness, loss and death.

This season has reminded me that part of friendship with Christ is honest friendship with his people. It’s hard for me to invite prayer from others on days when I’m angry, sad, stuck in a yellow fog. When I do reach out, that friendship deepens.

It’s also not my normal practice to call people I don’t know well to say “you’re on my mind. How are you doing?” When I do, the friendship deepens further.

In all of this, I’ve been praying that more and more, this world will know the friendship of Christ. That his kindness will strengthen our medical workers, pushed beyond endurance. That his mercy will greet those dying alone and bring them safe into eternal beauty. That his gentle voice of correction and reproof will be heard by those who manipulate truth for gain, or pride, or hope of power.  That his question, “do you love me?” will draw us closer to him and to each other as he shows us how to feed his hungry sheep.

This week my friend Ruth shared a poem written just a day before. I’ve asked her if I can share it here, a gift of friendship, from her, to me, to you, from the friend beyond all others:

I hear your love song singing over me
In the cool damp grass
In the sparrows building their nests
In the heady fragrance of the lilies
In the gentle croon of the hen ready to lay her egg.

You have laid a blanket of peace over my shoulders,
A softness that caresses me,
A warm comfort like the crackling of a log fire.
I can smell your sweetness like mown grass
Like leaf mold on the forest floor.

You have loved me with a strong love,
A possessive love,
A jealous love,
A fervent love.
Yet I feel it in the gentleness of a light breeze,
A cat’s soft purr,
A wispy mist over a still lake,
A child’s contented sigh,
Dust in a beam of sunlight.

I want to drape this blanket over this hurting world,
To gently caress it with soft tears
Of remorse, of mercy and of love.
                               Ruth Morgan