+John 13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
My son finally likes food. It’s been a battle against avocado and his first taste of green beans. He’s cried through mouthfuls of applesauce and pureed carrots. But finally: he eats.
He loves bananas and pears and prunes. He loves cereal and sweet potato and even mango.
We are giving him spoonful after spoonful of food at home.
14 days ago-Felix took a little bite of hummus, and immediately- his lips puffed up with blisters. His tongue swelled so large it could not fit into his mouth anymore. He couldn’t swallow. He vomited over and over. His body became bright red with white welts everywhere.
He was losing consciousness as we drove to the ER. My husband shouted at me: ‘Felix is dying!’
He had an allergic reaction. He went into anaphylactic shock.
As we drove, I started to pray: “why can’t I trade places with him! This should be me! God- let this be me not him! Let me suffer, not him!”
But we can’t do that for one another, can we? We cannot suffer for one another or die for one another or trade places with one another. No matter how much we love someone- and I love Felix with ALL my heart- we cannot trade places. Instead, to really love someone through their suffering- we must be present. We must endure together.
I remember wiping off Felix’s sweaty forehead and patting dry his soaked onesie in the emergency room. It is the only thing I could do. That is all any of us can really do for each other. It’s our only choice when the going gets rough.
Last Saturday- as Felix struggled to breathe- I pleaded with God “let this be me!” But we cannot take each other’s suffering.
And yet, sometimes that is what we attribute to Christ. Sometimes, we get caught up celebrating Christ’s sacrifice. But is that the best way Christ loved?
Maybe we get it wrong. Maybe our focus on Christ’s sacrifice is not the part we are called to mimic. Maybe it’s something different.
In this pre-resurrection scripture, Christ told his disciples to love as he has loved them already: by sticking close to one another through difficult times, standing by one another in the darkest, loneliest, most isolating moments, being community with one another even when it feels like the world is falling apart.
I learned 14 days ago that we cannot sacrifice for one another or take each other’s place in suffering- if we could, I would have been the one with the swollen tongue trying to breathe. Even the deepest love can only be shown by showing up, standing by, holding each other close, and enduring together.
When I hear the words of Christ’s final commandment to love as he loved, I hear this message in a new way these days. Loving one another as Christ loved is not promising to sacrifice ourselves in each other’s place- because we can’t. Instead, it’s standing by one another, enduring together, and most of all- allowing others in to our most vulnerable moments- being community together. This is how Christ loved, I hope we all seek to do the same.