On Tuesday of this week I attended the funeral of a friend and mentor of mine. She had picked out the hymns and readings several years ago. For her family and those who knew her well there were no real surprises in the hymns or the lessons she chose. Her daughters each read one lesson and it was the second lesson–one that was familiar to me (and I’ll guess was also familiar to most of you reading this now)–that, as is sometimes the case, caught me afresh and reeled me in. Isn’t it interesting how scripture can work like that? A reading that I’ve heard read at several dozen funerals–that I read at my own grandfather’s funeral three years ago–spoke to me again, afresh, calling to me in a renewed and different way.
The passage is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Even if it is familiar, take a moment to read through the whole thing. See if something strikes you afresh this time.
“14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness*with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.*35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ”
Romans 8:14-19, 34-35, 37-39
At other moments in other services there have been other parts of this reading that caught my imagination and my heart, but on Tuesday it was that powerful last sentence that shone brightly for me. “…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You kind of want to automatically include an “AMEN!” at the end of that sentence, don’t you?
I wonder why we don’t live like we believe this statement of St. Paul’s. Why is it so difficult for us to believe that there is nothing in all of the whole of creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? Probably because there is nothing in all of creation that works that way….except God. We have nothing in our reality to which we can compare this incredible unending, unearned, probably undeserved love of God. More to the point, what would it look like if we did believe that passage from Romans was true? What changes would be made in our lives; how would we alter how we act, what we say, what we do every day all day…if we truly believed that what Paul wrote was true?
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once preached: “God loves you! That is it. That is all. And that is all that you need. God loves you. LOVES. YOU!” May we go forth knowing, believing and living like the loved and adored children of God that we are, certain that not even death can separate us from the unending, incredible love of God.