Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name

John 20: 1-18

An old Christian tradition states that one Christian says to another Christian or group of Christians--

"Christ is risen!"

The response is "Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!"

To speak these words that Jesus is raised from the dead is an important proclamation for followers of Christ. It states that Jesus Christ conquered death. What human beings think is the end of life, God's raising Christ from among the dead means that trusting in the power of God in Christ and God's claim upon our lives means that death will not conquer us, either. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead after his unjust execution on a cross is about as central to the Christian faith as anything proclaimed by the Christian Church.

Christ is risen, indeed.

I've never appreciated the "Christ is risen" exchange on Easter Sunday and in the weeks following. I dread speaking them. I dread hearing them.

It's not that I do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but it is the story following the resurrection that disturbs me, even keeps me awake at night.

The story told in the gospel according to John depicts Jesus' loved ones coming to visit his grave site, not unlike you and I might visit a grave site of a loved one who has died, especially the days soon after a funeral. No one who comes to Jesus' grave and finds it empty grasps the reality or the magnitude of the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Jesus even told his followers that this would happen, but they still don't get it--and they even hung around Jesus. A lot.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is hard for the human mind to grasp. Even with the gift of faith that God gives, resurrection is still challenging to grasp. To state that Jesus is raised from the dead is not enough. A statement didn't even work for Jesus. Jesus said he was going to be raised from the dead, and yet when his followers saw the evidence, they still didn't get it.

What changed?

Think about the power of a name. The power of a name can alter our state of being. If our name is spoken with anger, disdain or hatred, it shoots to the core of our being and can drive anyone to despair. A name spoken with curiosity, interest, enthusiasm, adoration or love can help someone experience joy and help them move mountains. In my studies related to couple's counseling and marriage care that an exercise for relationship strengthening can focus on intentionally using your significant other's name as opposed to nicknames, pet names, or randomly shouting out orders, requests, or seeking information.

The utterance of a name in love is part of our greatest rites of passage. We speak each others names during a wedding, and attach those names to promises. We take great care to choose names for children and pets. At a baptism, we say the baptized person's name and say "you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever." That name is repeated at Confirmation. A name is spoken at graduations and award ceremonies--and loved ones and fans cheer with delight. The activity attached to speaking a name carries great power--and that power can be used for good or ill.

Recently the morning "Today Show" and news outlets around the country told a story about the abuse of names--a telephone scam where elderly people are called and their heart strings are tugged, uttering the name "Grandma" as a means get to money. Saying things like "Grandma, I'm in trouble. Can you wire me some money?" The power of a name is to be used with great care.

One of my favorite utterances of a name is from an old television show from the 80's and 90's (at least it's old to this child of the 70's): I think many of you will know that name once you see his image. Once the name was uttered, some sort of lovable wisdom was shared: "It's a dog eat dog world, and I'm wearing Milk Bone underwear."

The writers of the television situation comedy "Cheers" made a powerful link to one of the show's most beloved characters, Norm Peterson, and the song that introduced the show.

I think the Cheers theme "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" is an instructive song to our understanding of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and what it means after the actual event. For the event to actually happen is one thing. But the event of Jesus being raised from the dead only had meaning in the context of a relationship. When Mary went to Jesus' grave site and found it empty, she didn't know what to make of it. She thought Jesus' body was taken by grave robbers. Jesus approached Mary and spoke to her. Mary didn't recognize Jesus or his voice. But once Jesus called out Mary's name--she knew that Jesus was alive, and she called him by one of the ways she knew her relationship. She affectionately called him "teacher."

The resurrection only became real to Mary when her name was spoken by Jesus and it was contextualized by a relationship. When I hear or speak the words "Christ Is Risen," it rings a little hollow for me because I know that I can do a better job of helping build relationships in the Church. I know that we can do better together. I know that hundreds of thousands of people look at Christians and don't care to hear about who Jesus is or what he has done because we haven't put a friendship, relationship or hospitality behind the name we proclaim. We may know something of the power of Jesus' name, but we have lost the sense of power of all the names of people whom God created.

I know nothing of the faith background of Scott Ginsberg--but I know that he has recognized the power of knowing a name. Several years ago, Scott decided to start wearing a name tag, all day, every day. He wrote a book, established a, and speaks worldwide about how his life has changed and the insights he has gained from wearing a name tag--how he built relationships because he was willing to put his name out there. Scott recognized the power of a name and turned it into making a living. I hear all kinds of excuses for people in a church not wearing a name tag. The truth is, we don't know as many names as we think we do, and sometimes I will avoid people because I don't want to go through the embarrassment of not remembering someone's name (has that happened to anyone else?). Name tags give people the opportunity to avoid the shame of not knowing a name, and it creates a better path to build a relationship.

I will not make a statement that the Church needs to be more like a bar, or that everyone in a congregation has to be best friends, or that everyone has to wear a name tag, OR ELSE. What I am saying is that we must recognize and act upon the power of a name and contextualize that name with a relationship. The statement about the resurrection telling the joyous event of Jesus' resurrection from the dead that ends the finality of death only means something in the context of a relationship.

There is something similar to Norm Peterson walking into Cheers and the Church. Wherever you go to encounter God, Jesus calls out your name with the same love and enthusiasm.

Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!


  1. Thanks, Scott, for leaving the comment. Your comment gave a little more punch to the sermon! Happy Easter back at you.