Friday Reflection – April 26

From The Rev. Nancy Key, Deacon, St. James Cathedral

Who are our neighbors?

Fresh from Holy Week, I write this Reflection. Holy Week: when we attempt to walk with Jesus as he drinks that cup he is to drink. That cup that, as told in the Gospel, Jesus has some very human hesitation to drink. It is this hesitation that so fully illustrates the incarnational nature of Jesus. And it is his drinking of the cup, enduring the suffering, the mockery, the abandonment, the crucifixion — and his resurrection, that is our divine promise.

We all know the first and great commandment, to love God, and the second “like unto it” – meaning of equal importance – “to love our neighbor as ourselves.” Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem and the cross make clear how we are to live out these two commandments, and how we are to understand just who are our neighbors.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19: 26-27)

Jesus’ mother was with him in his journey to the cross. That he loved his mother and his dearest friend is clear – from the cross, he brokered the new familial relationship between his mother and the disciple whom he loved. He cared for them both, ensuring that when he was no longer physically present, they would be safe. These are the “neighbors” Jesus loved – and we can readily understand that our family and friends are amongst those Jesus has commanded us to love.

The disciples were also with Jesus during his journey into Jerusalem. They were, no doubt, enjoying what they understood as the true deserving adoration of their teacher, probably basking amongst the adoring crowds. And then at the Passover meal, where Jesus washed their feet, embodying how we are to serve others, and broke bread with his friends. That our adoring friends are the neighbors Jesus would have us love is certain – and it’s plenty easy even when our friends, like Jesus’ disciples, seem a bit obtuse in their actions.

But, even when the disciples seriously disappointed Jesus – when they fell asleep in his last hours – did he love them. Even when Peter – upon whom Jesus would build this church – denied him three times. Even when Judas turned against Jesus. These friends, even in their not-so-lovable moments, also are the “neighbors” we are to love.

And now comes the hard part as we commemorate Good Friday and follow Jesus through his trial and crucifixion. Surely the crowd who demanded that Pilate release Barabbas and crucify Jesus were not Jesus’ neighbors? And what about the soldiers who flogged him, placed the crown of thorns on his head, stripped him of his clothing and cast lots for them! And then. And then. Nailed him to the cross.

Are these Jesus’ neighbors, the neighbors of the second great commandment? The neighbors we are to love as ourselves?

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

I believe this is our answer. Our neighbors consist of every single person, indeed, every bit of creation: for Jesus, through his resurrection and redeeming love, has made Holy every bit of creation.

The EDSJ Cathedral altar guild worked very hard throughout Holy Week with different set-ups each day. On Good Friday, after everything was ready with less than one hour before service start time, a woman approached me as I was standing by the Cathedral door. She had several very full bags, disheveled hair, and a thick coat of dirt on her hands and face. After learning that we did not have a shower for her to use, she asked to use the restroom. My thoughts raced to the fact that all was prepared for our service, and we were endeavoring to be at our “Friday best” – and knowing that, in all likelihood, she wanted to clean up in our restroom. But…. But…. I kept thinking of the messages of Holy Week. Love! Serve! Jesus!

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit took hold of me and gave me a stern talking-to as I led the woman to the restroom. When I went to check on her a few minutes later, she was, as I suspected, taking a mini-shower. How, for God’s sake, could I go into our Cathedral and partake of the passion of Jesus while I deny Lily – for that was her name – her request?

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

I repent of this sin – nearly succumbing to the temptation of forgetting that Lily is my neighbor. How can we receive the love of Jesus through his passion and resurrection and fail to love each one, as Jesus loves us? The answer is that we must not profess one faith, but live another.

Lily: thank you for bringing me to my knees on Good Friday.

Leave a Reply