Home      Back to Maundy Thursday        




Divine Friendship
by Dr. Robert Crouse
"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 15:15) 

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. 

Amen. +