In the last chapter of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, you see both Paul’s earnest desire and the simple greetings offered to community members. The mundane details of written correspondence and the depth of vulnerability, frustration, hope and desire converge in the final verses of what might have been Paul’s final letter.
He is suffering and has suffered greatly without companionship, indeed even in the wake of abandonment. But, here in his loneliness, in his suffering and isolation, he finds himself closest to Christ.
It is significant that, in the depth of Paul’s loneliness and separation, he feels the presence of Christ most acutely. In this moment, he is on his way to death, and, like Christ, he has felt the abandonment of his longtime companions. Just as the disciples fled or betrayed Jesus in his hour of deepest vulnerability, so Paul joins Christ in this path toward self-offering. And as Paul comes closer to the story of Christ in this moment, Christ draws near to him — even right beside him.
Perhaps we are not imprisoned or abandoned by our friends and companions, but there is a potential to feel deep loneliness in this time of “social distancing,” “shelter-in-place,” and quarantine. In his time of isolation, Paul called his friends to his side, even as Christ already accompanied him: “Do your best to come to me soon” (v. 9). This is the appeal of friend to friend, desiring the companionship of one who has been co-laborer and co-sufferer for the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Friendship is one of the most meaningful bonds we have. In this time of potential isolation and loneliness, call your friends to your “side”: make phone calls; play charades over FaceTime, Skype and Zoom; join one another in the prayers offered by our churches; share your concerns with one another in whatever ways you can. In so doing, come alongside one another as companions, bearing with one another as friends.
The Rev. Johnny Tuttle is rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kingsport.