Cling to friends like life itself

Two men went for a walk, on the day they say Jesus rose from the dead.

Keep smilin’, keep shinin’

Knowin’ you can always count on me, for sure

That’s what friends are for

For good times and bad times

I’ll be on your side forever more.

— Burt Bacharach/Carol Bayer Sager

Two men went for a walk, on the day they say Jesus rose from the dead.

They knew Jesus and had high hopes of hanging around with him for a long time. But like many, their hope was as dead as they thought Jesus was; nailed as soundly as He had been nailed to a cross.

In their shock and sadness, at least they had each other and a chance to chat as they strolled the 10 km to a town called Emmaus.

Friendship can’t raise the dead but it can prolong your life. At least that’s the finding of a study in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in Australia which suggests that in a 10-year period, older people with a large circle of friends were 22 per cent less likely to die than those with fewer friends.

Too many men are friendless. Allies at best, enemies at worst, masters of inane trivia. The results are both tragic and toxic. A six-year study of 736 Swedish men suggests a connection between friendships and coronary heart disease. Smoking and lack of social support were the two leading risk factors for these middle-aged men.

Shortly before his death, Samuel Taylor Coleridge looked back over his past and the strength of his early years. He wrote “Friendship is a sheltering tree.”

When the searing rays of adversity’s sun burn their way into our day, there’s nothing like a true friend to give us some relief.

As my mother aged, her friends died. But she had no sooner buried a friend, than she would make another , keeping her social circle as wide as possible.

God gave Elijah the sheltering tree of Elisha. David was hunted by King Saul but between them was the sheltering tree of Jonathan. St. Paul had Barnabas and Silas. Jesus had the twelve, not to mention Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Most days we are a PIN number or password ID; anonymous beings who must fight to be noticed and taken seriously. So we take our business to the place where we are known. Saturday morning, it’s the Little Beaver Restaurant. Same order from the same staff, eggs poached on brown.

There’s something to be said for going to the same grocery store where you chat with the same checkout folks and they ask you how your grandson is doing.

Large churches go cellular. We make ourselves small with cells which congregate during the week. One pours through a book and discusses it, others stick to studying the Bible. A cluster of women make pies for the sad, another group knits. Keeping the social circle wide.

Find a place where they know your name. Find someone who will go for a 10k walk when you feel like the world has come crashing down around you.

Along the way you may find out that it hasn’t.

That’s what friends are for.

Bob Ripley is Senior Minister at Metropolitan United Church, in London, Ont.

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