The Gospel According to Ross and Rachel: Waiting At the Gate

Dearly Beloved Readers: This is the first in a series of “gospel” reflections on the TV show, Friends. Even if you didn’t care for the show or have never seen it, I hope that you read along to seek the gospel in all kinds of media & art.

When I was a teenager, I would join thousands of other Americans at Central Perk every Thursday evening to learn from Ross, Monica, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe.

Twenty years after its premiere, and ten years after the series finale, the TV show, Friends, is one of those beloved worlds that many of us still enjoy visiting. I don’t remember if the friends ever went to church, but the Church could certainly learn a lot from them about community.

They laughed together and taught each other to laugh at their mistakes.

They got mad at each other.

They moved away from each other.

They reconciled with each other.

Friends reminded us that all relationships are complicated.

No matter how vehemently they disagreed with each other, they always returned to that one, rusty orange couch at Central Perk to recapture the unity of their community. They lived in a TV world where a waitress and an unemployed actor could amazingly afford expensive apartments in New York City. No matter how fictitious the circumstances, their community was real.

One of the best-known storylines was the relationship of Ross and Rachel. He liked her. She was oblivious. She liked him. He was oblivious. They finally start dating. They’re in love with each other. They break up. They’re still in love with each other. Repeat for multiple seasons.

One of my favorite scenes in that relationship is in the final episode of season 1. While Ross is on his way to China, Chandler accidentally tells Rachel that Ross is in love with her. After a lot of pacing, thinking, coffee drinking, and talking, Rachel heads to the airport to welcome Ross home. She pushes her way to the gate, and the show ends with her standing at the gate, holding a bouquet of flowers, and waiting for him.

That episode aired in 1995. In September of 2001, the way we greet one another at airports changed. After September 11, 2001, Rachel was no longer able to stand at the arrival gate to welcome Ross home. She had to join all of us on the outside of the security gates. We learned to live with new boundaries. We made changes for everyone’s safety.

Boundaries don’t cause us to love one another less. Rachel’s eagerness to see Ross would not have waned if she had to wait a few more minutes to see him. Boundaries are in place to protect us. Boundaries work for everyone’s well being.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:14-15, New Revised Standard Version)

Jesus was so present, so available, and so compassionate towards people that we overlook how wisely he set boundaries. In this story from John’s gospel, he knows that being made king was not the best plan for redeeming God’s people, so he pulled back. He protected himself, and he protected us. He didn’t love us less when he went “outside the gates” to pray. His love only increased.

Let us not be afraid of boundaries in our relationships. Instead, let us make health-full decisions in how we relate to one another. Let us learn from the example of Christ Jesus how to be the “friends” he called us to be.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian