by Catherine Pate
This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend. (John 15:12-13) How does following that one commandment change our relationship with God, so we become conscious followers and, as Jesus said, friends?
As far as worship services go, the one that formally inducted Eric Partridge as the new pastoral leader of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Sidney was typical in its presentation. The service opened with the lively hymn, “Praise the Lord with Sound and Trumpets,” calling the faithful to praise God in everything we do and everywhere we go. Opening the service with this hymn positioned all that would follow it in the shadow of that praise of the one who made all we would do that evening possible. The bishop then shared the grace with the community gathered.
The first reading was taken from Paul’s letter, Romans 13:8-14, in which the writer instructs his readers to follow the commandments, particularly to “love your neighbour as yourself.” Psalm 84 then painted a picture of an intimate relationship with God built on trust and devotion and the knowledge that one can safely abide in the living God. The Gradual hymn, “Love Divine, All Love Excelling” further reinforced the theme of love in Christ.
In his sermon, Partridge unpacked the Gospel reading (John 15:9-16) by exploring the notion of friendship and the important role friendships play in our lives. “For most of us, our friends aren’t our friends for any particular reason,” suggested Partridge. “The job you do, the family you have, the way you vote, the major achievements and blunders of your life, your religious convictions or lack of them, are all set aside when the two of you get together . . . The real you is the you that they are friends with. The usual distinctions of older-younger, richer-poorer, smarter-dumber, male-female cease to matter. You meet with a clean slate every time and you meet on equal terms. Anything may come of it, or maybe nothing may that day. It doesn’t matter, only the meeting matters. Most of us can think of a special person who is that kind of a friend. But what about God? How many of us think of God when we think of our friends?”
Partridge went on to explain that the Gospel tells us that to be God’s friend we must be friends with our neighbour—to be willing to “lay down our lives” for each other. This is a command, not a request, directed by God towards God’s people. We are chosen by God to be God’s friend. The only condition is that we love one another as God has loved us. And this is where the new pastor of the little parish in Sidney did something less than typical. He marked his new ministry with a statement of vulnerability and humility. “I’m grateful to God, to Bishop Logan and to this wonderful parish,” said Partridge, “for giving me the opportunity to be your priest and your pastor and to grow in friendship with you and to just be. Not to be something you were expecting or something I should be, but to just be who I am…I believe that together we can create a loving community that’s the kind of community that knows Christ’s friendship as he promised.”
This new ministry, according to Partridge, is to be defined by a commitment to love one another in the spirit of friendship God has commanded for God’s people. And with this friendship in view, the new incumbent and the congregation renewed their baptismal vows and covenanted with one another to share in the ministry of Christ in and through that parish. And, judging by the cheers and applause when the bishop presented the new leader in mission and ministry, the friendship has already begun. Thanks be to God!
This article will appear in the May 2017 issue of the Diocesan Post.
Photos: Diocesan Post