March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday: We Can't Out-friend Jesus

            Who is your best friend—the one who saved you from doing that, the one who listens and supports you during tough times, the one who brings out the best in you, the one who helped you become the you you are?
            Susie was my best friend in college. We had loads of fun and got into some scrapes that I still can’t talk about. I was her maid of honor; she was mine. We've loved each other through children, moving across country, our parents’ deaths, and now our grandchildren. I can never be a better friend to her than she is to me. Even now when I think about Susie, I smile. She brings out the best in me and my life is richer because of her. She’s the best. We also can’t be a better friend to Jesus than he is to us. He’s the best and our friendship with him is what we celebrate today.
            Maundy Thursday is the day we celebrate the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples. Tough days are ahead, but now we remember what is good. The word “Maundy” means mandate, and Jesus uses it when he says, “I give you a new commandment (mandate): Love one another; as I have loved you.” Jesus mandates us to love each other, like he loves us, his friends, his best friends.
            The point is simple: Jesus is our friend; and because of him, we befriend others and bear lasting fruit for the Kingdom. But if we fail or run away like Peter, Jesus will seek us out and offer us another chance. In other words, we might drop off the vine and even into the mud, but Jesus remains our friend no matter what.
Throughout the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus say over and over, “My hour has not yet come.” He says this to his mother when she asks him to whip up some wine at a wedding, because they’d run out. It’s said when Jesus is teaching in Jerusalem and some people want to seize and destroy him. It’s said a lot. But it is also said right before Jesus takes the Last Supper with his disciples and again as it draws to a close.
I can just imagine Jesus looking over these clueless disciples. He knows he only has so much time left and he has to fit 5 years of the Course of Study and 4 years of seminary and maybe 15 years of experience working at the church into dinner conversation, which will be especially hard because the wine and the many toasts will make the disciples a little drunk. So the disciples are not positioned to be at their best, and they surely won’t be taking notes. Jesus is going to have to repeat himself and drive home the key points over and over to make sure they get even a little something.
So he starts simple. “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Yes, very good. Let’s make another toast; we are on board with you Jesus. “No,” replies Jesus, “Not quite so easy.” I am the vine and you are the branches. It means that we are connected, but we are connected for a purpose—to be fruitful.” We are connected as the Church. We represent different dominations. We belong to various committees, teams. We are connected and we strive toward common goals to produce significant products for the benefit of the Kingdom. Yes, Jesus we got it.
Then Jesus goes on to say that because we are connected to him, we are connected to each other—not as servants or followers, but as his friends. We are Jesus’ beloved friends. When the Gospel of John talks about “the beloved disciple,” we generally think of John, the disciple. But here Jesus is saying that if we stay connected to him and let him be our friend, we are all his beloved friends. And perhaps even more important, he is our friend; and the hour is here when he’s going to show us just how much that friendship means to him.       
What Jesus asks us to do in return doesn't sound particularly difficult. He wants us to love each other. Yes, even those people who want to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus. Yes, those people who just don’t seem to ever get it. Yes, those people who promise to deliver, but bail at the last minute. You get it—those people.
So under the influence, we all say, “Jesus, we will never fail you. We love you and, ok, we’ll love each other, because we think so much of you.”
Jesus’ hour is here. He is betrayed into the hands of the authorities, who have been trying to get him for a long time. Then there is Peter, who at dinner swears that he will defend Jesus to the death. After Judas’ betrayal and the soldiers step forward, Peter even cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant to prove his loyalty. Then he follows at a distance as the soldiers take Jesus away. Peter hangs out in the High Priest’s courtyard waiting for who knows what. Peter would show just how good a friend he was. But we all know the story; Peter denies that he even knows Jesus, let alone that Jesus is his best friend. Peter denies not once, but three times.
And in so doing, Peter cuts himself off from the vine. So he goes back home to fish only for fish. So much for being a rock. So much for the keys of heaven. Peter slinks home, convinced that he will be less than who he could have been with Jesus.
Days pass. Jesus is crucified, buried, and is raised from the dead. Jesus appears to his followers. Everybody wants to see Jesus. Everyone, that is, except Peter. Peter and a few others went home, but Jesus notices that Peter’s not around—like any friend would notice another friend’s absence.
So Jesus goes after him, not a lost coin or lost prodigal, but a lost friend. He goes back to where it all began for him and Peter—to Galilee. And there he is. Jesus finds them all and, of course, Peter. Poor Peter— so broken, so ashamed. So like you would do for any friend who is hurting, you cook them a meal—usually comfort food. So Jesus roasts some fish and they eat.
Then come those questions. Jesus asks, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” These “what” we’re not sure. Probably doesn't matter anyway. At least he and Peter are talking. Jesus asks this question three times. “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Three times to undo the three times Peter denied him? Three times to drive home his point? Or perhaps it takes three times to get Peter’s attention.
“Yes, Lord you know I love you. Yes, Lord you know I love you like a brother. Then, Yes Lord stop asking, you know already. I can’t love you like you love me. Heck, I can’t even love you like a brother, I can only love you—like Simon son of John.”
Then, I imagine Jesus smiling and saying, “Good enough. That’s all we need. Now, feed my sheep. Go and be that rock I called you to be. Trust me. I’m the best friend you’ll ever need.  
Jesus’ words to us? “Trust me. I’m the best friend you’ll ever need. I’ll help you.”
No, we can’t be a better friend to Jesus than he is to us, but we don’t have to. He loves us as we are. So let’s celebrate our friendship with Jesus by communing with him and each other now.

Have a blessed Easter.

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