A reflection for Sunday 5th May 2024 Easter VI by Canon Dean Fostekew

“Oh! I have 3000 friends on Facebook. I feel blessed to have so many friends following me.” 

Perhaps, today, this comment is not uncommon. Having friends numbered in the thousands is for many a badge of honour; even if in reality those with all those friends have never met more than say 2% of all those so called friends. So are those followers actually ‘friends’? 

That is a question that can cause some heated debate and I remember one such debate a few years ago at the Book Festival; when one of our own congregation challenged Rabbi (now Baroness) Julia Nueberger on her use of the word ‘friend’ in one of her books. Nueberger happily used the word to describe Facebook followers but our member believed that a friend  could only be someone with whom one had a close relationship with, whom one actually knew and spent time with. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘friend’ as:

“A person with whom one has developed a close and informal relationship of mutual trust and intimacy; (more generally) a close acquaintance. Often with adjective indicating the closeness of the relationship, as best, good, close, etc. Cf. mate, pal."

How do you define the word ‘friend’ in your experience? 

Jesus, as recorded, in today’s Gospel account obviously believed friends to be more than followers on social media. For him a friend was someone with whom he had a deep and loving relationship:

“12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you.”               John 15:12-14

For Jesus a friend was someone for whom you would give your all, even your life to save them or to make things better for them. They are not someone on a list of followers unknown to the individual they are following. They are people who have mutually chosen to be part of each others lives to such an intimate extent that they are more or less family. Friends are the people that one choses to spend time with and with whom one has a deep understanding and fellowship. Whatever the depth of relationship one has with any particular friend implies that one actually knows them by face, name and time spent together and not as just a nickname on a scroll of names following your latest instagram or snapchat photograph!

A friend for Jesus was someone who abided in his love and thus the love of God. Someone who had chosen to enter freely to a relation of depth with him and who had opened their heart to receive love from him. We are friends of Jesus and he is our friend as well. Not in any soppy or sentimental way but in a way that is all embracing and empowering. True friendship as defined by Jesus is a relationship built upon, transformed by, and sustained by unconditional love. The boundless love of God manifested through the Christ to those who recognise who he is and are willing to open their hearts to him. 

This friendship is powerful and life changing for friends of this depth are willing to put themselves out when needed. To laugh and cry with each other, to rebuke and teach each other and to love each other even when they might drive each other mad. Friends are those people who know us so well that they love even our faults and shortcomings because they can see the who person we are and not just a fraction of our humanity. Friends forgive each other when needed, carry each others burdens at all times, laugh together and wipe away tears. 

This is the friendship that Jesus talks about today; transformative, deeply loving relationships and not some unknown connection on a list. Personally, I would like all of us to reclaim the word ‘friend’ from social media usage by the way we show how we love our friends, just as Jesus shows us how he loves each of us as his friends too.