This is a reflection I gave at mid-day prayer at Emmaus Chapel in the St John’s School of Theology – Seminary on April 18, 2013.
Reading: Exodus 3:11-17.
Names. As you might imagine, the last few weeks of my life have been filled with people saying, “How cute! What’s her name?” “Hildegard” gets plenty of memorable reactions, of which the most generous was certainly Martin Connell’s offer to contribute to a fund for her future therapy bills.
One response, though, has stayed with me. My obstetrician, at my first post-partum visit, looked down at her and crooned, “That’s a big name for such a little peanut!”
Yes, I thought. She still has to grow into it.
When we give our children the names of saints, or when we take them for ourselves, we do so with a terrifying hope.
When Moses asked, “Who am I?” to challenge world rulers, to lead the people I fled from, to attempt your work of liberation, God gave him the divine name. I have to imagine it was a little too large. “Uh, thanks, Elohim, but I was hoping you’d just ask someone else.” Moses took this heavy name back and shared it with the covenant people, who stumbled under its weight many times. Still, they carried it, wrapping it with their reverent silence and passing it on to their children.
In baptism, Christians too are offered — or better, are burdened with — the divine name, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, another name that baffles human logic. If we’re paying attention, we too should find it a little too large. “Uh, God, this name that means the redemption of the world? It’s too big. Keeps sliding off. Couldn’t you have given me a better fit? Or… maybe I could just give it back?”
In the readings from the Acts of the Apostles in these first few weeks of Easter, we should find our terrifying hope. Three weeks ago, Peter denied the name of Jesus, but in these first few chapters from Acts, he calls it the only thing he has to give, the cornerstone, the only name “under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the apostles grew into the divine name. We can too.
The hope is terrifying though; the name of Jesus Christ led many of the first Christians into strange lands and even to death. It required them to call those they mistrusted “brother” and “sister.” Most of us will probably not face violence in God’s name, but we must be willing to face painful truths.
One truth is embedded in baptism itself, and it troubled the early Jewish Christians, but it is still troubling today. Baptism is a sign of God’s great love, but of course, in baptism God will take just anybody! In baptism God loves us — but no better than our enemies. We may be “chosen people,” but as Moses discovered, I AM, frankly, doesn’t seem to be much of a connoisseur.
When we call that Good News, when we are willing to share the burden of the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with those we despise, then we will have grown into the new covenant.