“Behold, I make all things new,” says the One sitting on the throne, that is to say, God himself. The seer of Revelation, John, sees a new heaven and a new earth: “The old order has passed away”; by now a new creation has replaced the old one. Then he sees a new Jerusalem, that is, the Church that replaces the old holy city: she is the dwelling of God with men; now God is present among people through the Church; he is “Emmanuel,” God with us. This radical renewal is the outcome of the work of redemption: dying on the cross and rising from the dead, Jesus Christ has renewed everything.
We take part in this global renewal through Baptism. In the opening prayer of this Mass we said: “Those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism may … come to the joys of life eternal.” At the end of the Mass we will pray to the Lord that we may “pass from former ways to newness of life.” Becoming Christian exactly means this, to pass from the old, that is, the worldly way of life to a new life.
You see, this Sunday could be considered the “Newness Sunday”: actually, Easter is the biggest novelty ever seen. Everything has become new. Saint Augustine says: “We are urged to sing a new song to the Lord, as new men who have learned a new song … Anyone who has learned to love the new life has learned to sing a new song, and the new song reminds us of our new life. The new man, the new song, the new covenant, all belong to the one kingdom of God, and so the new man will sing a new song and will belong to the new covenant” (Sermo 34).
Even in the gospel Jesus gives us a new commandment: “Love one another.” Why a “new” commandment? The second of the two main commandments of the old testament already ordered: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So, where is the novelty? In the old testament we were invited to love others as ourselves; instead now Jesus specifies: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” The point of reference has changed: before, it was we ourselves; now, it is Jesus Christ. Once we could limit ourselves to respect others as we want to be respected by them; and that is something! But now we are requested to love others in the same way as Jesus loved us. How did Jesus love us? He laid down his life for us: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). The love required of us is a heroic love, a superhuman love, a divine love. So, how can we love this way? We are barely able to love humanly, and we are ordered to love in a divine way.
But maybe here is the most important novelty of the new commandment: it is not only a commandment; it is, first of all, a gift. When Jesus says: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another,” he is not just proposing an example to imitate—it would be impossible for us, poor creatures and poor sinners, to reproduce by our human strength that model—but he is giving us that love as a gift, so that we can love others with his same love. Saint Augustine and the Council of Trent say: “God does not command the impossible; but, when he commands, he admonishes you to do what you can, and to pray for what you cannot do, and he helps you to be able to do it.”
That is what distinguishes the new from the old testament. The old testament was just a law: it confined itself to tell us what to do; but then it left us alone, unable to do what it had ordered. In the new testament the law has not been changed; the commandments are always the same. The novelty is that now, along with the commandments, we are given also the grace to accomplish them. “Love one another.” Well, I will give you the love with which you can love one another. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” The love with which I have loved you is not just a feeling, like your human love; it is a divine force that can transform you, that can make you able to love others as I loved you.