"Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth
not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things
that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you." (John
Jesus calls his disciples friends, and now he goes on to seal that friendship
with friendship's highest token: "For greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15.13) He gives himself
tonight in the sacrament, tomorrow on the cross. We are his friends, and
not just his servants, because we know what our master is doing. Ours is
the free and responsible relation of friends, because we understand his
work, and share in it with a will which is our own and not another's. We
understand, because all things that he has heard of his Father, he has
made known unto us.
But can we really understand all this? Surely the events of this Holy
Week seem quite beyond the understanding and sympathy of friends. When
the sun is darkened, and the veil of the Temple is rent in twain, when
the earth quakes, and the rocks are rent, and hell itself is shaken, are
we really his friends? No sympathy, no grief, no human compassion seem
to fit the case. Much better the centurion's terrible fear: "Truly this
was the Son of God." (Mark 16.39)
This seems to be God's business rather than ours. Homer, the ancient
Greek poet, has a character say of the Trojan war: "That was all the work
of gods, weaving ruin there, so it should make a song for men to come." It seems to be God's business, far beyond us, perhaps a matter of horror
and awe, if we catch a glimpse of its terrors, but hardly a matter of friendship.
Friendship, surely, implies mutual understanding, mutual good will, recognized
by both parties, and that involves an equality, or at least some proper
proportion, between the parties. What proportion can there possibly be
between us and the dying Son of God? How can we be friends?
As Aristotle remarks, "When there is a great gap in respect of virtue
or vice or wealth, or anything else, between the parties, they are no longer
friends, and do not even expect to be so. And this is most manifest in
the case of the gods, for they surpass us decisively in all good things
.... when one party is removed to a great distance, as God is, the possibility
of friendship ceases."
In general, Aristotle is right, as he usually is in points of theology. But Aristotle could not know the unthinkable mercy of God in the Incarnation
and Passion of Christ, whereby the distance of man from God is overcome
and we are called friends. In the atoning sacrifice of Christ, God manifests
the ultimate good will towards us: "Greater love hath no man than this." He makes known that good will, and sets it in our hearts; and that is the
principle and ground of our friendship with him. We are friends of God,
because his grace makes us so. He makes us god-like, and grants us the
equality of friends, the proportional equality of sons. "Behold what manner
of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the
sons of God." (1 John 3.1)
That is the friendship which Christians call "charity," the very bond
of peace and of all virtues. It is the friendship which binds us to God,
and unites us to one another in the new commandment of love, "Fellow-citizens
with the saints, and of the household of God." (Ephesians 2.19) And as
friends, we must do as friends do: we delight in God's presence, we rejoice
in our conversation with him, and find comfort in his consolations. As
friends we care for all that is his. We seek to do his will as free men,
not as slaves. "For we are in love," says St. Thomas, "and it is from love
we act, not from servile fear."
Today is the day of the "Maundy," the mandatum, "the new commandment"
of love. It is the special day of friendship, and the traditional ceremonies
of the day - the washing of feet, the blessing of oils for the sick, and
so on - all reinforce that thought. Above all, it is the day of the banquet,
the celebration of friends, in which our friend gives himself, that we
may dwell in him, and he in us. It is the moment of friends rejoicing together
before the pain of tomorrow.
Soon we shall remove the trappings of the feast, and leave the altar
bare and cold, for tonight is the night of betrayal, and tomorrow is the
day of despair. But he has called us his friends, and we must watch with
him, and "not fear, though the earth be moved, and the mountains shake."
(Psalm 46.2) We must watch and pray that the bond of charity may hold us
firm as his friends, and friends of one another. The fruit of the vine
is crushed in the press, but we shall drink the wine new with him in the
joy of his risen kingdom.