by Ruth Gee.
Last week I watched the Eurovision Song Contest; it was a long night punctuated by conversation with my daughter on Whatsapp. We used to have a lot of fun together during Eurovision as we settled down with food and drink and scoring cards.
Yesterday evening was different, not least because I wasn’t at all sure that I really wanted to watch this year. The singers and commentators kept saying that this was all about the friendship between nations. Through music, whatever the political or economic situation, people would become friends and work for a better future. All were friends together, united in song and competition.
Outside in the streets of Tel Aviv, in the aftermath of conflict in Gaza, demonstrators urged those arriving to boycott the party because of the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, some members of the Jewish community demonstrated because the holding of the contest was a desecration of the Sabbath. In Haifa the Palestinian community hosted an alternative Globalvision contest. The discord was not only evident outside but was made apparent in the competition when one team waved Palestinian flags during the scoring and Madonna’s stage set included two dancers with Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs. Whatever was going on in the competition it was not, and never could be described as friendship between nations which are becoming increasingly fragmented throughout Europe. People did not leave their deeply held beliefs, their concerns and their fears behind, they only tried to bury them deeper for a time. Friendship is deeper than a shared experience though it might be initiated by or result in such.
CS Lewis described friends as “side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” Sallie McFague develops this further and describes friends as heading toward a common vision that binds their relationship. In his sermon, The Catholic Spirit, John Wesley also describes a common vision, a binding of the hearts of two people that may lead to the offer of the hand of friendship.
In the recently published report to the Methodist Conference 2019, God In Love Unites Us, it is suggested that friendship is a significant category in the way people talk of their relationship. Friendship is also presented as a significant category in the fourth gospel. In John 15:12-17 Jesus calls his disciples friends. They are servants no longer, the distinction between friends and servants is that servants merely obey, friends share a common purpose and understanding. They are Jesus’ friends because they are invited into a relationship with him that enables them to glimpse and to participate in the relationship of Jesus with the Father. Here is a common vision, a binding of hearts, a friendship. This is a friendship within which the greatest love can be expressed in the laying down of life. In the context of such friendship agape and philia are so subtly distinct as to become interchangeable. Later in this gospel (21:15-19) the author reminds us of the importance of friendship in the exchange between Peter and the risen Christ. Opinion remains divided as to whether agape and philia are interchangeable here or whether one has priority over the other. If the latter is true that it would be more usual for the more significant to come last and perhaps Peter is pushing Jesus to use the higher category of the friendship which implies a common vision and purpose and a willingness to lay down one’s life for the other.
Another word for friend is companion, derived from the Latin words cum (together) and panis (bread). Companions are those who share bread, who break bread together. The friends of Jesus break bread together with him and together with one another, in doing this sustenance is shared, and life is offered and received.
Very recently a group of Methodists and Catholics were together in a celebration of the mass where the president was a Catholic priest and in a celebration of Holy Communion where the president was a Methodist presbyter. Our friendship was deep, we were truly blessed, we felt that we are sisters and brothers in Christ all of us called to be his friends. We acknowledged and felt the pain of being unable to share fully and recognised that this continues to diminish us, but we share much in common including the commission at the end of the eucharist to go in peace to love and serve the Lord. As those who believe that God loves all we are called as friends together to reach out in friendship to others.
The call to friendship, a call rooted in the command of Jesus and the love of God, cannot be denied. Friendship is life enhancing and life changing, it brings joy and challenge and it is the beginning and the goal, the source and the summit of ecumenism.
“Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?…If it is, give me your hand.”
 Lewis, C S., The Four Loves, Fontana 1963, 91
 McFague Sallie, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age, SCM Press 1987, 163
 Wesley John ”Catholic Spirit” John Wesley’s forty Four Sermons (xxxiv) Epworth Press 1991, 442. This has its basis in the exegesis of 2 Kings 10:15
 God in Love Unites Us 1.3.3