I was having lunch at a local restaurant with a friend the other day and it occurred to me what a blessing that simple event was. It was not a birthday or a milestone in either of our lives. It was not a holiday or a feast day. It was an ordinary, "garden variety" day. But indeed we were enjoying something very precious: the gift of friendship. Therefore it was a special occasion. As far as I am concerned, anytime two or more friends get together to share a bit of time is a special occasion. After all, friendship is a gift to be celebrated.
In reflecting on my enjoyable lunch the other day, I realized that at least 90% of my encounters with friends involve some sort of meal. Meals are important because it is a time of nourishment. It is a time when we pause in our day, to get away from work for a moment or two, and re-focus. What better way to re-focus than with a friend! However, going to lunch with a friend is more than merely recreational or an adventure in fine dining. It is ministry. I am ministering to my friend and my friend is ministering to me. This does not mean that it is formal or that there are problems. But being a true friend to someone is a form of ministry because it is something we all need to live a life of wholeness. We need to share stories and ideas with one another, and we need to be supportive, objective, and helpful when we seek each other's advice or insights. And we need to have fun!
Friendship brings joy to the heart and soul. Our friends are those people with whom we enjoy spending our precious time. It is a mutual relationship in which we can share the most difficult of times and the most joyous of times, and even better, the most ordinary of times. That is, we share the events of our lives with each other. There is nothing more important than to have people in our lives with whom we can be totally ourselves and know they still love us, or maybe they love us because we are so "real" with them. They are people who matter most to us in this world. They are more important than things or wealth or position. Friends enrich our lives in ways material things cannot. It is the love we share that gives us our greatest meaning and purpose.
When God created the world, He put two people in that garden, not one. The Book of Genesis tells us that God tried to do it with only one, but Adam was lonely and none of the other creatures could satisfy his loneliness. Adam needed a partner, who was first a friend and then his spouse. For those of us who are married, our spouse is our best friend. He or she is the one with whom we share all our thoughts and dreams, and we have a common purpose in the family that we became through our union. But it does not stop there. We need to have friends outside of the family, since we are one human family. We have our civic community and especially important is the community where we worship, our faith community.
The Scriptures tell us the stories of many beautiful friendships throughout their pages. I have mentioned some of them before, but my favorite is that of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah was really at a low point when God brought Elisha into his life. Elijah wanted to die because he had successfully brought many of the people back to God, but Jezebel sought to kill him. Most of the other lesser prophets had been killed already; he was tired, depressed, and lonely, and so he wanted God to take him. God recognized what Elijah needed and so He promised that he would find a friend in a man named Elisha. After descending the mountain where Elijah met with God, he came upon Elisha who was plowing the family fields. It was as if something was recognized by both because Elisha immediately rushed home to say good bye to his parents and departed with Elijah to not only learn from him, but to be a companion. Simply put, these two like-minded men became close friends.
Elijah and Elisha were so close that when it was Elijah's time to leave this world, not only did Elisha seem to know it, (okay, he was a prophet!), but he stayed with Elijah to the very end. They were so close that he was the only one to witness Elijah's miraculous passing in the fiery whirlwind. But not only that, he was intimate enough that he could ask Elijah to follow in his footsteps, to have the ability to be a prophet such as Elijah had been. Elijah knew that only God could do this, but Elisha did indeed receive his power when he saw the fiery chariot and Elijah taken into heaven. Elisha was not in this for the power; God had no doubt picked Elisha for the purpose of taking over at the appropriate time. Elisha loved his friend, so he wanted to emulate him and to honor him. He shared a deep love for the God of Israel with Elijah during their time together. This is why he received the fallen cloak of Elijah when Elijah was taken: he had the mantle of Elijah, which is to say, he had Elijah’s power. But he also had something else in that cloak. He had a precious possession which had belonged to Elijah as something to keep him close to his departed friend. He could wrap himself in that friendship as he wore that cloak.
Friendship is about honoring one another. Sharing a meal is what friends do and is so central to friendship that it is what Jesus chose to do time and time again throughout His ministry. In every gospel there are numerous stories of Jesus with His friends, from the wedding at Cana to the times He was with potential followers. He even ate in the homes of people who were looked down upon because these, too, were His special friends. It should not surprise us that the night before He died He shared His last meal with His closest friends. And it should surprise us less that when He left this world He left us a meal, which is the greatest meal of all between friends: His own Body and Blood! There are lots of things He could have left us, but He chose no mere “thing.” He gave us Himself in a perpetual meal which we can receive every day if we so chose. We gather around the table as friends in Christ. We eat the bread that is His Body and we drink the wine that is His Blood and we are nourished on the love that binds us all together as the one Body of Christ.
We, as the Body of Christ, should always put love first and foremost in our lives. We receive God's own love through our friends and we give God's own love to our friends in turn. Every time we sit down to a meal with our friends whether it is with the larger community of the Church at Eucharist or whether it is the smaller community of one or two friends, if love is present, He is there. Having lunch or dinner with a friend is no idle waste of time or money. It is a precious gift of love. It brings joy to our souls. As my wonderful friend Fr. John said to me the other day: “Joy is the oxygen of our soul. Without it we cannot live.”
May we be filled with gratitude for the friends God has given us throughout our lives as precious gifts! May our vision of what a friend is be stretched to include the wider communities of faith to which we belong, to include the communities in which we live, and to include the stranger, the poor, the outcast and the lonely! May we always grow in our friendship with the Lord who is the most faithful friend of all! Let us continue to meet as friends in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
I took the top photo in Assisi, Italy, in December of 2001. I chose it for this entry because it reminded me of the friendship of St. Francis and St. Clare, both of Assisi. It also reminded me of a great meal and great fun I had while there with my best friend, my husband.
The icon is Holy Prophet Elijah written by Rev. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=85
Heart Speaks to Heart