Benediction Online

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Baruch Hashem - Blessed be the Name

I expect some of you were surprised by our opening hymn this morning – you probably came to church this morning expecting to sing carols. But today is the day that we, the Church, celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name. The Feast of the Holy Name; at first glance this seems a little obscure. Why celebrate a name?

Today’s gospel reading records the baby of Bethlehem being circumcised, as all Jewish boys, and given his name, Jesus. The New Testament reading from Philippians told us more about his Name. In a hymn from the early church we heard:

"Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. "

When the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary about her coming child he said, “You are to give him the name Jesus.” (Lk. 1:31) And to Joseph he said “Mary will give birth to a son and you will call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)

Jesus means “The Lord Saves."

For the ancients, names were very powerful. They represented the person and his or her attributes. So the Name of Jesus is in itself powerful and venerable. I think it may be a little like the American flag. When we take the pledge of allegiance we aren’t committing ourselves to a flag but to what it represents. But we honor the flag precisely because of what it represents. Even if we don’t stand to attention, we take notice when it is raised or lowered; and we use it to give military honors to those who die having served in the military.

For many years there were laws against “flag desecration” which were nixed by a 1989 Supreme Court decision in favor of free speech. Similarly, the third of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” (Ex 20:7). This is not about swearing in the sense of using bad words but in the sense of undervaluing the most sacred and precious thing there is. The Name of God is so sacred in Judaism that often Jews will call God HaShem which means “The Name”.

When we say a familiar name it brings with it a sense of the person. Just think about these names:

Mother Teresa

St. Francis


Martin Luther King Jr.


Hitler has a totally different feel than the others doesn’t it? Because the name brings to mind the nature, character and spirit of the person it represents. A name has more power than just a label.

As today is the first day of the New Year, it is a good time to ponder what kind of name we each have and what kind of name we would like to have. When someone says your name, what comes to their mind about your nature, character and spirit? What do you want your name to mean? What are you doing to build those characteristics?

When someone says “St. Benedict’s” what does it say about us as a community?

Every time we gather together to worship or to serve we gather in the name of Jesus who said “Where two or three come together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). I think Jesus was speaking as much about intention as about physical togetherness – whenever we gather our thoughts and intentions together in Jesus’ name, God is in the midst of us.

That is what gives us the hope that we can have a good name. We do not have to do it alone. We do not have to transform our hearts and lives on our own without help and assistance. God is with us. That’s another name given to Jesus – Emmanuel – God with us. Whatever the challenges you are facing today, the fears, the hopes, the anxieties as well as the joys, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Proverbs 18:10 says “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” God’s abundant love is available to us – it is as close as the Name.

In Acts the apostle Peter says, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Of course it would be superstitious to imagine that we are saved simply by saying “Jesus” – yet when we intentionally call upon the name of Jesus, it is truly powerful, because we are actually calling upon the nature, character and person of God.

Because it is so powerful, many Episcopalians choose to briefly bow their heads whenever the name Jesus appears in the liturgy. Because it is so powerful, and because Jesus told us to pray in his name, we often end our prayers “in the name of Jesus”.

Baruch HaShem; Blessed be the Name.

In a little while we will pray together, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name”; Let us pray it in a different way today, remembering that a name is not just a label and the Name of God is holy and powerful.

In ending I want to return to the question of what our names represent. When someone says my name, what does it communicate about my nature, character and spirit? Here’s a poem that encapsulates my hope:

School Prayer

Diane Ackerman

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

© Vintage Books.


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