Call me by my name

Henry Scott Holland made this well known appeal in his poem ‘Death is nothing at all,’ “Call me by my old familiar name. Speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.”

It is a poem which riles some and soothes others. Scott Holland personalises death through the inveterate way in which we use names. It is difficult to navigate through the day without using names (I wouldn’t commend this behaviour). Name calling, in its proper use, is a dignified form of communication. We feel good when somebody uses our name for the first time, it signals a new stage of relationship. We are identified, known, revealed for that most precious title – our name.

Names are also significant because they have meaning. Many of us been attributed with names which are part of our family heritage. They are a way of remembering important and loved people. Our names can reflect culture and creed. There were a huge influx of Kylie’s in schools as the Minogue celebrity grew in the 1990’s. There have also been a throngs of apostles and evangelists used by the righteous for their sons and daughters across the centuries.

So, names in life and death have meaning, bring purpose and identity. God calls us by name also. From the calling of the boy Samuel to become king, to the in utero calling of Jeremiah and John, God calls his people to life and action. During his short life, Jesus was called many different names including the Christ, Lord, Master, Rabbi, King, Son of God/Man/David… Jesus knew the power of name-calling so much so that he re-named Simon to Peter. This new name represented extra responsibility but it was also an acclamation of Peter’s strengths. Jesus appointed Peter (Cephas in Greek, meaning rock) as the leader of the apostles, the one who would be strong enough spiritually, physically and emotionally, to support the followers of the Way as it grew into what we now call the Church.

If we have been wronged or hurt by another, we often prefer not to use their name. We might even defer to a different, more retaliatory, form of name-calling.

Names are important to God, they are the means by which God communicates to us – silently, persistently in every given moment. Unlike God, we can choose whether we call someone by name or not. If I am honest, I notice myself doing this to those I love and (much easier) to those I find difficult to love). Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister responded to the atrocity in ChristChurch last week by refusing to name the gunman responsible. Her speech was passionate, authoritative and sensitive. She said, “he will, when I speak, be nameless… I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them.”

I couldn’t agree more! Yet, God in his unlimited love, cannot be silent; he is not nameless before God. Is this what unconditional love means – that God continues to call the name of the man who created such evil and destruction? Perhaps we should dwell on this during Lent. Let me offer you some verses from the prophet Isaiah and his sense of hope and liberation:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

Learn more about God’s redemptive love this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am, 10am and 6.30pm.

Don’t forget Stations of the Cross each Friday in Lent at 6pm in church.

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Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.