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A lesson on friendship

Friends hugging

Throughout Lent, campus ministry leaders will provide devotions based on the Gospel lectionary scriptures. Kim Bos from Ferris State looks at the raising of Lazarus as a story modeling true friendship and what sacred community does for us.

Director, Wesley Foundation at Ferris State University

Today’s scripture reading is from John 11, the well-known story of the death and raising of Lazarus. When we look at this text, we usually talk about Jesus’ power and divinity. We talk about the foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection. But we could also examine this story and discuss Jesus’ humanity.

In this text, we see some clear guides for how to be in relationship with someone in difficult times—when things are rocky, when the path forward is unclear, when there is great loss, or when the world feels dangerous. Jesus and his friends model what sacred community is and what it does for each other.

Ask for What You Need

When Mary and Martha realize that their beloved brother isn’t getting better, the first thing they do is reach out to their friend for help. They send word for Jesus to come. They have built the kind of relationship where they trust his love and care for them, and because of that, they believe he will come. Every pastor I know has a few stories of people who have left the church because we, the body of Christ, did not know what they needed and could not show up for them. We need to cultivate friendships, families, and communities where it is safe to ask for what we need.

I see this every year in campus ministry. At the beginning of the year, we always have a handful of freshmen who look like they might flee. They spend the first few weeks of school trying to take up as little space as possible. They ask for nothing. They do not yet trust this community or me with small things—like a glass of water or where to get a spoon—and so, of course, they do not bring us their deep needs either. But then they settle in. First, we prove ourselves with the small things, and they eventually begin to trust us with the big ones. Then, in November, they have become the students trudging up the hall voicing their needs: “I need to talk to you.” “I need a hug.” “I need to know if I was being a jerk.” “I’m scared and need someone to come with me.”

We need to build communities and friendships where people can ask for what they need.

Go Along

So Jesus is preparing to return to Judea, and the disciples are concerned. Mostly, they are worried because the last time he went there, the Jews tried to stone him. And then here comes Thomas—yes, the same one who would be called a doubter later—and what he says is a testament to how much he loves and cares for Jesus. He says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (v. 16, NIV). Thomas does not have a commitment problem. While he’s worried about what Jesus might face, he is taking it upon himself to ensure that he doesn’t face it alone—even if it is hard, scary, painful, or deadly.

We, too, are called to be the kinds of friends who go along and make sure that whatever our people face, they won’t be alone. A few years ago, we had a student in our ministry whose brother had taken his own life. She said that her church community came around her family in the aftermath. They delivered meals, sent cards, and held a memorial. Her youth group leaders took her for coffee. They did what they were supposed to do. But about three weeks later, she noticed that people started avoiding her, wouldn’t talk to her at fellowship times, and told her to cheer up. Her grief was making them uncomfortable. She stopped being part of that community because they would not go with her on the long road. If we are going to build communities that do more good than harm, we need to remember that life is a long road. It is treacherous, rocky, and sometimes steep. But there is healing, justice, and hope when we journey together. May we always choose to go along.

Feel Your Feelings and Let Others Feel Theirs

This passage includes the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (v. 35). Sometimes, in the quickness of that verse, we miss how powerful it is. Jesus wept. He stood there knowing his friend was dead, knowing that he would rise again, and cried. Jesus didn’t explain why he was crying; he didn’t justify his tears. No one told him to “man up,” no one tried to encourage him to look “on the bright side.”

If we are going to create lasting and sacred relationships, we must hold space for feelings—our own and those around us. Every year, many students come to my office in tears, saying, “I’m sorry, this is a dumb thing to cry over.” “I’m sorry, other people have it so much worse.” “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t hold it in anymore.” It wasn’t different when I was in local church ministry, and it isn’t any different in my therapist’s office. We spend so much time analyzing, justifying, or denying our feelings that it becomes hard to be present. Instead, we need to hold space for each other’s grief, fear, dismay, and loss, as well as our joy, hope, and connection.

Believe in Life after This One

When Jesus instructs the people to move the stone away, and Martha tells him that there will be a bad smell, we need to notice that Jesus is not afraid of the stench of what might be because he’s already certain that Lazarus is alive. He believes in the life that Lazarus will have.

When we love people who are facing the hardest times, be it death, loss, disease, divorce, or any other burden, sometimes the best thing we can do is believe that even though the life they had is gone, there is another one coming. Sometimes students come to my office distraught and trying to figure out how to tell their parents that they’ve failed a class, are changing majors, or lost a job, and all I can do is be there on the journey with them. I believe they have a life after this one, even if they aren’t interning in that office, even if they never become a pharmacist, and even if they must retake that class. When our friends suffer great loss, we believe in their future, even when grief consumes them. When their hearts are broken, we believe they will be healed, even when pain is breaking them open. We hold hope for them when they cannot. It is our calling and charge to believe that our beloveds have a future, even if they can’t see it or imagine it yet, and know without a doubt that God is already there.

We live in the most technologically advanced time in human history. We have 24-7 access to the world. We have supercomputers in our pockets and platforms that boast about our thousands of friends. But study after study reveals that most people have never felt more alone, unseen, and insignificant. We need to be in holy communities. We need to build sacred friendships. We need to be friends like Jesus had friends. We need to communicate, show up, be present, and hold hope. The kingdom of God is already and not yet. This Lenten season, may we do our very best to build that kingdom between us and among us.

Creator God, we rejoice in the gift of your Son, who was both fully you and fully us. We thank you for his divinity and his humanity. We ask that you help us love people as he loved them, and that we would allow ourselves to be loved well by others. Make us steadfast friends who are fully present and who bear your hope to the world. Give us grace for each other and ourselves and fortitude for the days ahead, so that we would transform the world with your love. Amen.

Last Updated on March 21, 2023

The Michigan Conference