I’ve been thinking about names a lot lately. Not only because I’ve finally gotten the paperwork to make my own name change legal, but because we’ve just entered the wilderness of Lent with Jesus after his Baptism, where God called him “Beloved” and then the Accuser (‘ha-Satan’ in the Hebrew) questions him three times on it. “IF you ARE the Son of God,” Satan cajoles. “IF,” to call into question his identity, his relationship to God, his purpose and very existence. We get that same question, that same nagging all the time from all around us, don’t we?
“IF you really love me,” says the codependent or abusive lover.
“IF you really want to be happy,” says the marketing establishment.
“IF you really are a patriot,” says every political party throwing mud.
“IF you really are a Christian,” says the radio, the bullhorn preacher, the irritated family member who sees things differently than we do.
But we like recognition and encouragement and legitimacy for our self-concept. I know who I am, yet there is something comforting in having official legal paperwork to show for it, a driver’s license with my proper name, even though that means I’ve had to let go of the name I was given when I was born.
The real reason I’m thinking about names today is that I was reading through the First Testament lesson for the coming Sunday, from Genesis, and it’s a story about God and Abram. ABRAM, not AbraHam. That’s important. It marks a time in the man’s life before this eternal covenant was made official, and his new name, when God gives it to him, marks a complete world shift in his sense of place and purpose in the world.
God is all over the place changing people’s names. So are the kings of the day. Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednigo weren’t given those names by their families but by Nebuchadnezzar, the king who conquered their land. Naming is a way of exercising power, of defining a person, of erasing a past and starting a new future in the case of cultural assimilation. Consider how Ellis Island erased people’s history when they stepped off the ships, or remember how important it was for Kunta Kinte to know his name. In Scripture, children were named for their parents’ experiences of God or life at the time of their birth. Lands and places were given names according to major events that took place. Jesus called Simon and renamed him Peter. Saul became Paul. And exiles and foreigners became family.
Maybe Lent is just another season for you, or maybe it is full of memories of fish fries and giving up chocolate. Perhaps it’s a time you take for some retreat or creative practice as winter drags on and we pray for Spring. Historically, Lent is a time to remember our name, the name given to us in our Baptism, the name “Child of God,” “Beloved,” “Mine,” which God gives to you by the power of the Triune Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Lent leads on toward Palm Sunday, the Passion and the cross of Good Friday, remember that this name, this relationship, this covenant, is stronger than death, and it will carry us through Good Friday and on to Easter, where we also learn the meaning of the name “Unafraid.”
So now we move forward, from “IF” to “BECAUSE.”
“BECAUSE” you are a Child of God
“BECAUSE” you belong
“BECAUSE” you are loved
“BEACUSE” you will not stay dead forever anymore
“BECAUSE,” God says, “you are My Beloved.”