Befriending Jesus paves the way

Published 10:04 am Friday, July 3, 2009

What a friend we have in Jesus. It’s how an old hymn begins.

While I personally never sang that hymn much growing up in the Episcopal Church, I somehow know all the words, and for some reason, I recently found myself humming the tune and repeating the words.

What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus? Maybe I was prompted to recall those words because my husband and I traveled many hours to see old friends, ones we hadn’t seen for several years.

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From the moment we stepped out of the car after a 10-hour trip and exchanged hugs our conversation seemed to pick up where it had left off four years ago.

Before long we were sitting at dinner retelling old stories, recalling the events and people we had known through the years, laughing at some of the stories and growing solemn and reflective as we talked about friends who had died or were sick.

Literally, the years fell away as we reconnected over that first supper together.

Our experience with those friends led me to think that our friendship with Jesus isn’t much different. Many of us grew up with Jesus; we have hundreds of stories about Jesus that we’ve heard or shared.

Some of us lost faith in the Jesus of those stories as we came to trust the people, places and things of the world, and as adults, we had to become reacquainted with God’s only begotten son.

Some of us were able to keep our knowledge of Jesus intact, but it was knowledge, not friendship that defined our belief.

Some of us want to make our adult relationship with Jesus complex, asking questions like “Did Jesus really say or do what is reported in the Gospels?”

We try to pin down the Son of God, wrestle him to our size, catch him in all his humanity, so that we might craft the relationship with him on our terms.

But that is not only impossible it seems exactly what Jesus doesn’t want from us. From the beginning, he calls us friends.

In John’s Gospel, he says “I no longer call you servants but friends.” Jesus obviously wants to be our friend.

Befriending Jesus isn’t so difficult, it happens much like the reunion we shared with our old friends. As friends, over the years, we spent time together, we listened to one another’s stories, we told our own stories.

We shared our hopes and disappointments; we gifted each other with our presence in happy times and sad ones as well.

We held one another’s babies when they cried and dropped off a casserole when someone was sick or recovering.

We drove carpools for one another in the pouring rain and sat with them at the funeral home as they made the final arrangements for a loved one.

Our friendship with Jesus begins with our being in church. It’s really not optional to attend church simply when we “feel” like it or have a free Sunday or Wednesday.

If we want Jesus as a friend, church is where we learn about Jesus, that’s where we gather around the table as the candles flicker and share the meal he commanded us to eat in his memory, that where we tell and hear the stories of his life, it’s where we remember his passion, death and glorious resurrection.

In the communities we call church we are molded and nourished to go out into the world and befriend others in Jesus’ name; and when we do that, miraculously we draw even closer to the heart of Jesus himself and see the God who created us in God’s image.

What a friend we have in Jesus? All it takes is our surrender and attention, and when that happens, we’ve got a friend for life, new life.

Sallie Schisler is vicar at Christ Episcopal Church in Ironton.