Today traditional Anglicans celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.
The Greek spelling of the Holy Name begins with the letters IHS: ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, IHSOUS in Latin. And so, like the Chi-Rho abbreviation for Christ, IHS has come to be the symbol for the Holy Name of Jesus.
I have long been fascinated by the power of the Name of Jesus. It is used often by those who do not believe, unthinking, even shortened to “Jeez.” And yet in my own faith-pilgrimage, the name has grown precious to me. So I wince when I hear it sworn, used lightly, in vain, and I often add to their invocation, “be praised,” turning the curse into a blessing.
Even referring to Jesus casually seems flippant, harsh on the ear. Lord Jesus, or Our Lord, sounds better, sounds more appropriate when naming the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, both imminent and eminent.
We name our children in Baptism, sometimes calling the service a “Christening.” For in Baptism the child is made a part of Christ’s Body, the Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit in the pouring of water. He or she is Christened, brought into Christ. Adult Baptisms do not include this naming, but nevertheless these men and women are Christened, brought into Christ’s Body.
What is in a name? Nothing and everything. I am identified by my name. I am called, chosen, loved, with this name. I sign my name, and my signature is my bond, my contract to be true and faithful – in marriage, in business, in law, even in giving birth. “Sign here.”
We capitalize our names to add emphasis. But we want to blend in as well, so we simplify spellings as we move between cultures. We change our names to reinvent ourselves, to avoid the law, to hide from the press.
And so, as the years go by I have wondered about the Holy Name of Jesus and its power. Even before Christ came to earth, we were commanded not to take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. When God the Son comes among us, New Testament testimony repeats again and again the power of the name of Jesus.
When Gabriel appears to Joseph in a dream, the angel announces, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Luke 1:21). St. Paul writes, “in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). Those who “call on the name of the Lord” will be saved (Romans 10:3).
St. John quotes Jesus: “If you ask the Father anything in my name he will give it you” (John 16:23). So we conclude our prayers with the phrase, “Through Our Lord Jesus Christ” or “In the name of Jesus.”
The Name of Jesus drives out demons, baptizes, performs miracles. The invocation of the Holy Name protects us from evil. We pray the name of Jesus, breathing in and breathing out as we move through our days, travel through our time given.
We celebrate this Holy Name of Jesus on August 7, the day after the Feast of the Transfiguration. The closeness of the festivals is appropriate, for it is on Mount Tabor that Jesus reveals himself as God’s Son once again, reflecting his own Baptism:
“And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him… behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.” (Matthew 17)
On the mountaintop, Jesus, Son of God, bridges heaven and earth, the New Covenant with the Old Covenant. We climb His Body into Heaven, like the angels on Jacob’s ladder. His Holy Name is our cry, perhaps our hymn to Him. We are transfigured in Him, by Him, with Him, and so our faces shine as the sun, our clothing white as the light. He shares it all with us, freely. Because God – Father, Son, and Spirit – is Love, is community, is touching and arising, unafraid.
A beloved parishioner passed into that white light this last Tuesday. She was elderly and her journey here was long and faithful. She came to Church every Sunday, easing her ’66 Chevy gently into the parking lot. She dressed up to worship the Holy Name of Jesus. She wore color-coordinated skirt and jacket, hat, gloves, polished pumps kept in good condition through the decades. She kept her soul in good condition too, and she would pause to chat with the Sunday School teachers and laugh with the children. The place in her pew is bare now, empty. It will never again hold such a lover of Jesus. But then every lover of Jesus is unique, unrepeatable, unforgettable. But she glowed, transfigured. She is greatly missed already.
And so we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus, and as we sing our songs, we partake in that name, transfigured too.