“Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus,” the speaker said. “Nothing at all. Not anything we do — or anything we don’t do.”
I pushed the rewind button and played the recording again, scarcely believing what I heard.
The speaker’s text was from Romans 8 — the dramatic concluding verses in which the Apostle Paul describes the expanse of God’s love extending beyond the limits of time and space, beyond life and death. Such love cannot be curtailed or contained.
Because human love is always finite, it’s hard to imagine a love so boundless and free. Like many Christians, I had tried my best to keep my promise to faithfully follow Jesus. Yet I was keenly aware of my failures — the sins I had committed and the good I failed to do.
What I heard that day, however, marked a turning point. If nothing I could do or not do would keep God from loving me, then an enormous burden was lifted. The one sure thing I could count on was God’s enduring love. That foundation changed the trajectory of my spiritual journey. It wasn’t about me or anything I could accomplish. It was about God.
No one I know describes our mistaken human understanding better than Celtic theologian John Philip Newell, who asks, “What is it we have forgotten about ourselves and one another?” His answer: We have forgotten that Eden is our home. We live in exile, far from home, like Adam and Eve. The truth is that we are in and of God, not opposed to God — a reality that could transform every molecule of our existence.
Though there is a time to talk about human vulnerability to sin and our tendency to stray from the path of life, the season of Easter is a time to revel in God’s goodness and grace. What Romans 8 affirms was demonstrated once and for all on the Day of Resurrection: God’s love cannot be quenched.
One way such truths come to dwell in our bodies, minds and hearts is through our worship. In the history of the church, several practices have encouraged us to celebrate the gift of God’s love. Lent, a season of 40 days of prayer and reflection, calls us to remember our human frailty and face the truth of our sins.
The celebrative Easter season lasts 50 days — in recognition that God’s grace is greater than our sin. Furthermore, the church has not historically included confession of sin during Easter season. Instead, Christians confess their faith, affirming God’s power to redeem the world and create new heavens and a new earth.
In the little church we attend in Port Townsend, the congregation feasts on pancakes on Shrove Tuesday — and then, in silent procession, carries our folded Easter “Alleluia” banner to be buried in a niche in the columbarium. On Easter morning the banner is removed from its grave and borne aloft into the sanctuary, where it hangs as a white and gold canopy above us as we sing glad alleluias throughout the Easter season.
Many Mennonite churches have discovered the value of a penitential season, such as Lent. Fewer have discovered its joyful complement. Though Easter Sunday may be grand, the festivities fizzle quickly as we return to ordinary Sundays.
What would it be like to celebrate the full 50 days? If the resurrection of Jesus Christ became the center of our faith, what difference might that make?
John 10, the Good Shepherd chapter, is often read during Easter season. The Faithful Shepherd who protects, guides and lays down his life for the sheep was often painted on the walls of the catacombs by early Christians — a beloved image of the Risen Christ.
Though such an image no doubt brought comfort to those who grieved the loss of a loved one or a fellow member of the Christian community, the description in John 10 portrays a dynamic, living relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep. A loving intimacy characterizes their communion: the Shepherd knows his own, and the sheep know their Shepherd.
The love of God described in Romans 8 is a cosmic, universal love — the love that created all things. The love described in John 10 is personal, unique to each one. Such breadth and depth are stunning beyond all imagining. How can we keep from singing — during Easter season and every season?
Marlene Kropf is retired from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Church USA. She is the author of Faith Travels: Trusting God in Life’s Transitions (MennoMedia, 2016). She leads retreats, offers spiritual direction and enjoys hosting guests with her husband, Stanley, at their home in Port Townsend, Wash.