Homily for the Holy Name

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2009 at 11:08 am

At the Community of the Sacred Name, Christchurch,
August 8, 2009

Names are important.
I have a favourite poem by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown
set to music by Peter Maxwell Davies.
The first letter of each line forms the letters of the name of a child,
first baby to be born in a depopulated village for 32 years.
It was sung recently at her wedding.

It is an indulgence,
but in keeping with the promise and hope of our Gospel and this Feast
I might read it to you.
The Archbishop of Canterbury also makes a guest appearance:

Let all plants and creatures of the valley now
Calling a new
Young one to join in the celebration.

Rowan and lamb and waters salt and sweet
Entreat the
New child to the brimming
Dance of the valley,
A pledge and a promise.
Lonely they were long, the creatures of Rackwick, till
Lucy came among them, all brightness and light.

Names are important.    Names disclose identity.
Children are named in the hope of their growth,
in their honouring the name of a family.
In their discovery of who they are.

Names are taken, new names.
In Scripture, in religious community, in the union of families,
names become symbolic of new relationships, new hopes realised,
new commitments undertaken.
In the promise of Joseph’s dream,
in the promise of the Annunciation,
the profound reality of the Incarnation is underscored:
God proclaims God’s presence born among us
not just in the prophetic Emmanuel,
“God is with us”,
but in the ordinariness of a common name.

“Jesus” was not an uncommon name in first century Palestine.
Jesus is the Latin form of the Greek Iesous,
which in turn is the transliteration of the Hebrew Jeshua, or Joshua,
or again Jehoshua,
meaning something like “God saves”
or “God is my salvation”.

An ordinary name.
A very long way one might think
from the absolute uniqueness and sanctity of the Tetragrammaton,
the four letters of the Divine Name that could not be spoken.
Clearly Jesus, “God saves”, is a name powerful in meaning,
as his living, dying, and rising to new life for and with us bears out.
But it was also an ordinary, unremarkable name.

The holiness of God,
inapproachable and inconceivable,
takes our humanity in Christ Jesus,
and makes this one common name
uniquely holy.

Brings to our lips the Name of one who knows glory and grief,
drudgery and divinity,
and who sanctifies each moment of our being.
The Incarnation hallows every moment,
and makes every human name in some way holy.
A community of prayer such as this
knows that this is also indicative of God’s will for us,
that each ordinary moment, and each ordinary act
might be infused with the presence and holiness of God.

The very name of Jesus in some Eastern traditions
is itself a prayer, contemplative, complete.

Yet as Paul reminds us,
the name of Jesus does not hold us still.
We are in this Name caught up in the proclamation
in prayer and service and, as St Francis noted, occasionally words,
the proclamation of the truth it embodies:  “God saves”.

The holiness of God and of the Name that is above every name
calls us to be holy,
and to bring the fruits, the demands of that holiness
into fuller reality:  love, compassion, justice,
not just as abstract concepts, but as real and tangible
as the Incarnation itself.

The holiness of God revealed in Jesus gets its hands dirty,
reaches out and embraces the untouchable,
lifts up the downtrodden and the frail.

We who find the Holy Name upon our lips
are invited to recommit ourselves this day
to the ministry and vocation
that we have been given, all of us in distinct measure:
adoration, intercession, faithfulness, loving service.
And to find in every common moment
of days more unremarkable than this Feast
the sanctifying certainty of the Incarnation,
even the gift of our Lord Jesus, Most Holy.

I began with a lyric,
and it is very much in poetry and hymnody
that our contemplation of the Holy Name is shaped.
I’m sure you can bring to mind texts that speak
of the power and beauty of the Name of Jesus, almost effortlessly.

One of the great poetic contemplators of the Holy Name
was Bernard of Clairvoux.
Perhaps his most famous text is Jesu dulcis memoria,
but it was one among many.
He writes:
“The sweet Name of Jesus produces in us holy thoughts,
fills the soul with noble sentiments,
strengthens virtue, begets good works, and nourishes pure affections.
All spiritual food leaves the soul dry,
if it contain not that penetrating oil, the Name Jesus. …
Jesus is honey in our mouth, light in our eyes, a flame in our heart.
This name is the cure for all diseases of the soul.
Are you troubled? think but of Jesus,
speak but the Name of Jesus, the clouds disperse,
and peace descends anew from heaven.
Have you fallen into sin? so that you fear death?
invoke the Name of Jesus, and you will soon feel life returning.
No obduracy of the soul, no weakness,
no coldness of heart can resist this holy Name;
there is no heart which will not soften and open in tears at this holy name.
Are you surrounded by sorrow and danger?
invoke the Name of Jesus, and your fears will vanish.”

So may it be for us, who gather to confess the Name beyond all earthly honour.
To pray for this community,
and to commit ourselves again to Jesus’ service,
love and, we pray, eternal companionship.


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