Here is the thing about friends: sometimes they betray us.
No one knows this better than Jesus.
13 He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15and to have authority to cast out demons. 16So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean.
When the time had come to grow the work, to advance the mission, Jesus chose 12 apostles. And they were not only his co-workers or subordinates; they were, as he himself explicitly states, his friends.
But look at how his friends treated him. As we remember in the Maundy Thursday service of Tenebrae, on the night it matters most, one of them betrays him, another denies him; all of them forsake him and flee.
But this tells me something important: Jesus knows how it feels to lose a friend. Jesus knows the sting of that betrayal. He has been there and done that.
Maybe we should talk about it more.
When I was doing Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) almost 20 years ago, one of my supervisors introduced me to the concept of disenfranchised grief. My CPE placement was at Seafarer’s and International House, and he was a chaplain to merchant seafarers. Many of them had spent most of their adult life at sea and had no close family. But sometimes they would have a dog. So he did a lot of dog funerals. And he told me that dog funerals were so important because grief over the death of a pet is generally not seen as socially acceptable. It is a form of disenfranchised grief.
I think losing a friend falls into the same category.
Virtually everyone has experienced conflict, betrayal and loss in friendship. But we don’t talk about that grief. There aren’t a lot of great pop songs about the end of a friendship. (Although this has a lot of fond associations for those of us who were fans of Veronica Mars). And that means our grief is compounded by isolation.
Could we do better? Could we make some space and give each other permission for the open grieving of friendships that fail?
I hope so.
But let’s not stay there. I want to take a step beyond making space for the pain to actually imagining some redemption. But in order to do that, I have to out myself as a Gen X cliché dad rock aficionado.
That’s right. I’m going to talk about U2.
In my own defense: I had just turned 15 years old when Achtung Baby dropped. And so it was, yes, a formative album. (I know I sound defensive right now. Because: dad rock!).
Enough throat clearing. If you aren’t familiar with the album, the 4th track is entitled Until the End of the World. It is a kind of Midrash on the story of Judas and Jesus, told from the perspective of Judas. It offers a frank depiction of the pain Jesus suffered from Judas’ betrayal.
But it ends on a hopeful note –and it is that kind of theological imagination that I want to bring to this conversation.
In the first verse, Judas recalls the Last Supper:
Haven’t seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
You were talking about the end of the world
The second verse moves the story into the Garden of Gethsemane where (as Bob Dylan puts it) “Jesus Christ was betrayed by a kiss.”
I took the money
I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You lead me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You were acting like it was the end of the world
But in verse three, our dad-rocking Irish midrashists dare to sound a note of hopefulness:
In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you’d wait
‘Til the end of the world
Jesus Christ is our great friend. And Jesus Christ is the One whom we betray, over and over again.
But in the great love of God, Jesus waits…and waits…and waits.
For us. For reconciliation. For the redemption of all our friendships.