Romans 8: 38-39 (NRSVA)
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor 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.
When you are a minister, people sometimes ask you what your favourite verses are. I have a few, but the ones I come back to again and again are Romans 8: 38-39. At virtually every funeral I conduct I have the privilege of saying to people ‘nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Maybe these words resonate particularly strongly with me because of losing my father to a sudden heart attack when I was a child. He died in the middle of the night, and I know I spent at least a year or so struggling to get to sleep at night, because I worried some other loved one might die while I was sleeping.
I have since read that children of 10 or 11 quite often suffer some degree of separation anxiety, even without the trauma of a sudden death. Nor are adults immune to the effects of separation from loved ones. It has been one of the hardest elements of the current crisis — especially when loved ones have been terminally ill and unable to be visited for fear of infection.
In a less drastic, but still painful, way we have been separated from family members who are well. Or separated from friends, from work places, from social or worship places, from the familiar routines we enjoy. I suspect part of the healing we will be seeking in the months and years to come will be ways of dealing with the shared trauma of separation anxiety. We will need to learn that it is safe to sleep, so to speak, without fear that this will mean waking up to more loss.
A few years ago a minister friend pointed out that in the first story of creation, there is a refrain ‘there was evening, there was morning, the first day…’ (or the second day and so on). The days of creation, my friend pointed out, began in the evening not the morning. So while creation slept and while we are sleeping, God continues to work. When we wake up, we join in. My friend resolved to treat his bedtime prayer as a morning prayer from now on, handing over the first part of the ‘day’ for God to take care of while he rested, so that he could wake up refreshed and ready to take part. He knew that even in sleep, he wasn’t separated from God.
It’s a great idea, and a comforting one. Nothing — not even unconsciousness — can separate us from the love of God.
Why do I fear losing you God?
Or is it losing myself that I fear?
Tell me again what I need to know
That nothing can separate me from your love.
Nothing I do.
Nothing I fail to do.
Nothing anyone else does.
Not death. Not life.
Not angels. Not kings.
Not even presidents.
Not the mistakes I’ve made
Not the mess I am making
Not the next disaster which takes me surprise.
Not my enemies. Not my friends.
Not a virus.
No ifs. No ands. No buts.
Nothing can separate me from you.
Waking or sleeping,
Your love will not, cannot, let me go
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.