The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B, St. Paul’s Church, Franklin, May 5, 2024

I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (Jo. 15:5).

As we know, Easter is a season not a day: fifty days, in fact, enabling us to go deeper in relationship with Jesus Christ, who is alive and not dead. Notice that the statement reads “is alive”: not “was alive” but “is alive,” the present tense. Most of us think reflexively of Jesus as a historical person, someone who lived in the past but who is somehow mysteriously present now. But the proclamation of the Church, by contrast, is that Jesus is alive now.

Think for a moment of how the Book of Common Prayer usually concludes our prayers. Today is a case in point: we ended our collect of the day with this ascription: “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” This example gets repeated, over and over again in our Prayer Book liturgy, with only minor variations. Present tense, by and large, all the way. Jesus Christ is alive, and that means we can be in relationship with him now.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus invites us to be in a particular type of relationship with him, and that is friendship. “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father”(Jo. 15:5). Jesus no longer calls the disciples servants, but he calls them friends. Because he is alive now, we are included in the call. As he says in our reading, “You did not choose me but I chose you” (Jo. 15:16).

Let’s think about friendship for a moment. A recent poll (Pew Research Center, July, 2023) reveals that Americans feel positive about friendship, and are generally satisfied with the quality of their friendships. They talk with their friends about work, family, current events and popular culture, physical and mental health, and sports, among other things. At the same time, some people report that they don’t have any friends: part of that epidemic of loneliness that we keep hearing about. It’s a mixed bag. Friendship, in other words, is up for grabs: with leading indicators going in both positive and negative directions.

What does it mean to be a friend? I think a good working definition of a friend is a person in your life who you can spend time with and talk about anything with, without looking at your phone or your watch. That’s a pretty demanding definition in the day and age of the cell phone. Trust is also something that factors into friendship, as a non-negotiable. And there are also many other things that figure in friendship, like common interests and views: not really required for friendship but certainly things that can enhance a relationship. Finally, there are people you are friendly with who are not exactly your friends, but might become friends at some point. All well and good.

Jesus raises the stakes on friendship, however, when he tells the disciples, “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jo. 15:13). Here he’s talking about himself and not about us. Jesus asks Peter rhetorically, “Will you lay down your life for me?” (Jo. 13:38), knowing that when it’s crunch time Peter won’t be able to do so. Not only does Jesus lay down his life for us, but he has power to take it again, as he says in the tenth chapter (Jo. 10:18). In other words, it is the risen Lord, the one who is alive, who chooses to be our friend.

So, Eastertide is when we “hang out” with Jesus, and learn how to be his friends. In this holy season there are at least three ways for us to focus our friendship with Jesus; three ways to deepen our relationship. First of all: prayer, the conversation we have with God. A great ground rule for friendship of any kind is that God gives us two ears and one mouth, so the proportion of speaking to listening ought to be in the same ratio. In our conversation with Jesus, we listen carefully so that we can learn what he has heard from the Father.

Second, table fellowship. Jesus’ friendship is just like our own friendships, sealed over meals and hospitality. In Luke’s Gospel, the risen Lord is recognized on the road to Emmaus in “the breaking of the bread” (Lk. 24:35). It’s when they share the meal that they know that it’s Jesus. In the same way, at this Eucharist, we grow in our friendship with Jesus, as we draw closer and closer to him in his Real Presence. At the altar, we encounter the living Christ, who gives himself for us, and who lives in us.

Third, service of others in Jesus’ name. Our fellowship with him is strengthened by our fellowship with others, our solidarity with each other in acts of ministry and service. Jesus has called us friends, and calls us to friendship with each other in him. Today, our confirmands are showing us what it means to be friends with Jesus, and we are grateful for the example. He has chosen us to be his friends, we have not chosen him, and together he makes us brothers and sisters, friends to him and to one another.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee