A new commandment

Maundy Thursday, 2020

TO MARY WILLIS SHELBURNE: On keeping to a regular pattern of religious life during the storms of life.

9 November 1955

I agree: the only thing one can usually change in one’s situation is oneself. And yet one can’t change that either—only ask Our Lord to do so, keeping on meanwhile with one’s sacraments, prayers, and ordinary rule of life. One mustn’t fuss too much about one’s state. Do you read St. Francis de Sales? He has good things to say on this subject. All good wishes.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III
Compiled in Yours, Jack

I started this morning looking for a reading on Maundy Thursday, the day that ended with the last Passover supper and Jesus’ arrest (John 13-15). The name of the day comes from the Latin “mandatum,” from which we get our word “mandate.” Mandatum novum do vobis; a new commandment I give you (John 13:34). I stumbled upon the C.S. Lewis quote above and looked up St. Francis de Sales. I found a treasure trove of writings that encourage and inspire readers to daily show faith by action, remembering that everything believers do should be for God’s glory.

Lewis admonished that in difficult times we who call ourselves followers of Jesus must continue our daily habits of prayer and devotion, working out the will of the Father in spite of the culture and crisis surrounding us. God uses calamity to help us grow in love for Him. As we remain faithful in difficult times, we see His goodness and mercy more clearly. De Sales wrote,

My God!, how happy we should be if we could love Thee as we ought; Thou, Who hast prepared for us such good things, such rich blessings. Hold fast to this amid all the various trials with which you are surrounded in this present world. How can we better manifest our faithfulness than by being faithful amid distractions.

St. Francis de Sales on Joy among Trials

James said the same thing to the churches of the Dispersion: Count it all joy; let steadfastness have its full effect; be doers of the word. COVID-19 is the current crisis, but it isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. If we love God and demonstrate that love by loving each other in the middle of the chaos, how much more will He be glorified when the crisis ends? We will be changed by the Father in the situation as we persevere steadfastly to His mandate to love.

Change is inevitable. The I Ching says that change is the only constant, but it is not. God the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Eternal, Creator, HE is the constant by which people identify change. And it is in this eternally constant God who loves us so much that he became one of us, that we can endure change. Not only can we endure change, but we can accept it, learn from it, grow in it, and even rejoice in it. And as we endure, accept, learn, grow, and rejoice, we can love.

This Holy Week is different for believers around the world. We are physically separated because of a pandemic. Church buildings will be as empty on Sunday as the tomb was that resurrection morning. That change is disquieting, but it will not diminish the power of God over death. Sin is still conquered on our behalf by the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb.

Love for God and love for each other are the foundation and the crown of the Church. COVID-19 can be a spiritual distraction as it wreaks physical destruction, but it must not become an obstacle to living out the new commandment given on this day:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis. Copyright © 2008 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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