This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)
These words from John’s gospel were some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples before his death. I’ve always felt they were the crux of what it meant to be a Christian, to follow Jesus. From childhood on, I have read stories of the saints martyred for their faith. And I have read accounts of “ordinary” people like Rachel Scott, a teenager who was shot at Columbine High School after testifying to her belief in God. I always believed, hoped, that if I was called to die for my faith I would be able to do what Rachel and the martyrs did. Yet I have never been put to that test, and I struggled with how I was called to honor that commandment in my everyday life.
For me, it is important to start by acknowledging that love is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling. Love is a choice, especially sacrificial love like Jesus’. Life experience tells me the greater the personal sacrifice required of me, the harder it is to choose love over self. But isn’t that what Jesus did? He chose his love for me, for all human beings and for God over his own life. He asked me to love others as he loves me.
Over the past few months, I witnessed medical professionals, first responders, grocery store clerks, agricultural workers, food processors and other “essential” workers living Jesus’ command on a daily basis. They choose to risk their lives and put the needs of friends and strangers, rich and poor, young and old, ahead of their own needs for the sake of the common good. They worked long hours, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. Some did not see their families for months so as to not also put their families’ lives at risk. And yes, some died, never seeing their loved ones again.
But I am not an essential worker, especially with St. Anthony’s closing, so I still wondered what I could do. I felt helpless. I struggled with the decision; I wondered if we weren’t overreacting. I was asked to make a different kind of sacrifice but it felt less like a choice. Government leaders told us to stay home, church leaders stopped offering public worship services, St. Anthony’s closed and our staff was sent home, businesses and schools closed. Yet as the coronavirus spread, it seemed apparent closing and quarantining was the right decision. I do not know how many lives were saved by these sacrifices, though medical experts tell us they did make a difference.
Now government orders have been lifted and businesses are reopening. Now I do have the freedom to choose. I want to return to “normal”, to travel, to visit friends, to wander through stores. But the reality is life is not normal and may not be normal for quite some time, if ever. The coronavirus is still a threat to all of us, just as deadly as it was three months ago. The only difference now is I have the freedom to choose how I will respond to the pandemic; I can choose how I will balance my rights and freedoms with my Christian responsibility to love and care for others.
How will I live out Jesus’ commandment in the coming months? In what way will I show my love for others? What will I sacrifice for the sake of another’s life? The summer vacation trip I planned back in February will wait until at least next year. I will continue to support food pantries and other agencies that serve those struggling financially at this time. I will wear a mask and maintain a physical distance from others, regardless how much I want to give them a hug. I will minimize my ventures away from home and keep reaching out to others by phone, mail or e-mail.
I know that, despite the sacrifices by all of us over the past few months, many lives were still lost to coronavirus. It is likely still more will die in the coming months; how many die may well depend on my choices, and yours.
I pray the lives lost will remind us that we are all vulnerable to this disease regardless of age, race, creed, gender, nationality or economic status. I pray this experience will be a reminder that we are all God’s children, and that loving our brothers and sisters as Jesus loves us requires sacrifice. I pray we will discover again that no freedom is absolute, that exercising any freedom must be balanced with protecting others’ rights and freedoms. I pray we will remember these lessons even when, or especially when, we are not in the midst of a pandemic or other crisis.
– Marge Lindell