What do you think of when you hear the word “Separation”?
Separation is a word that describes the feelings of so many in our world today. Often when we think of the concept of separation, I suspect we are mostly thinking about a relational separation. People who were once close are now separated. At holidays like Easter we might feel that, don’t we? Separation from the loss of a loved one.
But there are many other kinds of relational separation. Business partners can have an argument and separate. People can have an issue in their church and leave the church.
Sometime this kind of separation is needed. I recently listened to a podcast, Deep Cover: Mob Land, about a corrupt Chicago lawyer who fixed cases for the mob. After a number of years, he turned on the mob, informed on them for the FBI, and started testifying against them in open court. As a result he went into the witness protection program. He was separated for his own safety.
Sometimes this kind of separation is destructive: in marriage we use this word in the wedding ceremony, at which time we do not want separation to happen. “What God has joined together let not man separate.” And yet, many have felt the pain of separation that does happen in marriage.
Sometimes the separation is sudden, unexpected. This past week we celebrated Holy Week, which starts with the wonderful joy of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. Remember how we learned that the Triumphal Entry was like the coronation of the King. It must have been so amazing for Jesus’ disciples to be watching their leader receive the praise that was due him. Except that five days later, as we remembered on Good Friday, things were the farthest from good they could imagine. The disciples were separated from Jesus. It was a sudden, dramatic ripping apart of their worlds. Maybe you know the feeling.
Interestingly, you and I in 2022 can feel the pain of separation in a world that is more connected than ever. Remember how it felt during the pandemic to be separated? Did Zoom help? Yeah. It helped. But it didn’t resolve the longing we had to be together.
E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Cell phones keep us connected like never before. When I did my missionary internship in Guyana, South America in the summer between my junior and senior years of college in 1995, there was no internet, no cell phones. The missionaries I stayed with didn’t even have a land-based phone line in their home! The only way to stay connected to my wife, who was then my girlfriend, was through two-week old letters and three 15 minutes calls I made to her from a person in the community who had a phone line. That community member first required people to pay them to use their line, then we had to call collect. My calls to my girlfriend ended up costing my in-laws $50 for each of those three 15 minute calls. Believe me, I was worried that our separation would kill the relationship!
Now in 2022 we are electronically connected like never before, yet sometimes we feel so separated. The question we seek to answer is this, in a connected world, where separation is rampant, what does God have to say, and what does this have to do with Easter?
To try to answer that question, we’re going to study Romans chapter 8. Feel free to open a Bible and turn to Romans 8, verse 35. There we read a question about separation: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Remember that the guy who originally wrote this is one of Jesus earliest followers, a man named Paul. He was writing in ancient Greek, and the Bibles we have in front of us have thankfully translated that Greek into English.
The word Paul uses for “separation” is a word that is translated by a variety of English words: separate, divorce, depart, remove. In Romans 8, verse 35, the specific usage indicates a separation of “objects by introducing considerable space or isolation.”
Paul is talking with a people who are struggling with separation. For you and I, being Christians and practicing our faith in America in 2022 is not a threat. We are used to having freedom and even power in our nation, specifically rooted in our Christian faith and community. Not the Christians in Rome in the first century AD. Those Christians were a tiny minority with no power. It could be said that the world was against them.
Think about it. These Christians were living in the capital city of the Roman Empire. At the time Paul wrote this, Claudius was emperor of Rome from AD 41-54. During his reign the Jews were kicked out of Rome in the middle of riots. You can read about this in Acts 18:2. Roman historians record the event telling us that Claudius kicked the Jews out of Rome on account of someone named “Chrestus,” a common mistaken way of saying “Christos” in the Greek, which where we get our word “Christ”, meaning “messiah.” Messiah, as we learned last week means “deliverer” or “savior.” So when we call Jesus the Christ, we are saying the Jesus is the deliverer, the savior. But the Roman Emperor didn’t see it that way. Jesus wasn’t too popular in Rome. So Claudius kicked them out.
The Christians in the Rome faced a daily reality of being separated. Separated from family, friends, and all they held dear. Many were refugees, some were in hiding, fearing for their lives. Separation was part and parcel of their existence.
How about you? Do you know the feeling of separation? Check back in to the next post as we’ll talk about how Easter matters to those who are feeling the pain and loss of separation.
Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989), 1:615.