John 20: 15-16
Jesus said to her, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means teacher).
Words of Hope
I’ve long been fascinated by names—the meaning and origins of the people’s names, nicknames, the reasons for name changes—all of it. Names in literary works, of course, are often resonant with meaning. Take Chillingworth in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter whose cold-hearted, calculating revenge catalyzes the plot. Or consider the way Toni Morrison in Beloved signals the stripping of identity for the slaves bound to Sweet Home as their master dubs them only Paul D, Paul A, Paul F.
Throughout the Bible names and naming are very important beginning with God’s naming of Adam and Eve and giving them the power to name the creatures with whom they share the earth. Later God changes Abram’s name to Abraham when his role and identity expand to being the father of nations. Jacob too receives a name change after a night of wrestling with the Angel/God for a blessing. A transformed inner man is indicated in the shift from Jacob, which means supplanter or deceiver, to Israel, one who struggles or strives with God.
Being called by name can indicate the invitation to a sacred vocation. The boy Samuel, in his youth and inexperience, does not discern that it is God’s voice beckoning him in the night. Only when Eli guides him to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” does he begin to understand the claim of the Holy.
In the book of Isaiah, God assures us that we can trust in divine aid in times of intense trials—in the overwhelming floods of life and the fiercest fires. We can pass through because we are the children of a God who calls us by name and companions us in peril (Isaiah 43:1).
In the New Testament Jesus confirms that his followers know his voice and he calls them by name (John 10:3-4). This intimate belonging keeps the “sheep” from being led astray by strangers who would mislead them.
The strong thread of connection culminates in the scene from John 20 above, where the grieving Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb looking for Jesus’ body. Though she does not recognize his resurrected frame, he utters the one word that will reveal him: Mary. As he speaks her name, the full recognition of who he is dawns, a surge of wonder and joy overwhelm her, and she runs to tell the other disciples of the resurrection.
What a blessed assurance that you know our names, oh God—walking with us, talking with us, and claiming us as your own forever. We give you thanks and praise. Amen.
(For an added blessing, listen to Tasha Cobbs Leonard’s “You Know My Name.”)
Dr. Pat Saxon