(Lead me Lord,) as my first, fast, last friend.
This petition that the Lord be our first, fast, last friend is, of course, borrowed from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. In his stunning poem, The Lantern Out of Doors, Hopkins writes:
Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?
Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.
Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.
Christ minds: Christ's interest, what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.
Hopkins so beautifully speaks to the tenacity of God’s love which pursues us wherever we go. It is a love which is the source of our ransom, our rescue, and grows from Christ’s tenacious friendship. In the gospel according to John we see Christ at the end of his ministry with the disciples telling them that they are his friends.
John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
It is provocative to think of our relationship with Christ as a relationship of friends. Think of the mutual intimacy and loyalty involved in close friendships. We disclose to our friends secrets of the heart which we would never divulge to a stranger. We are able to be real and honest with a good friend precisely because we know that, in the end, that person is with us and for us — even if they need to be a voice of correction to us. Jesus says to the disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” We show that we have accepted Christ’s offer of friendship by being faithful to the way he shows us. That way, is summarized by Jesus with the commandment that we love one another. He says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [John 13:35 NRSV]
Daily Collect: Christ, our friend; you show the depth of your love and friendship by laying down your life for us. Help us, who are your friends, to grow in love for you and for our neighbors and for ourselves, and even for our enemies as you did. We ask this in the name of the one who, after all else has passed and has fallen away, remains our first, fast, last friend. Amen.