I am reflecting this morning on the name of Christ, that is, ‘the Messiah’.
Some years ago—I think it was ten years ago—I wrote a song called ‘Your Name’, a meditation on the name of Jesus. I was reflecting at the time on how biblical names often summed up the character of a person. We find, for example, that Jacob bore a name which, according to some scholars, means ‘deceiver’ or ‘supplanter’ (and was known for being a bit of a swindler). In the New Testament, perhaps the most famous example is Jesus’s affirmation of Peter’s name as ‘The Rock’. Peter, according to the NT narrative, was for much of his early life anything but a rock: somewhat unstable, he was prone to impetuous outbursts and famously (as predicted by Jesus) denied knowing Jesus three times just before the latter’s death.
The point here is that when Jesus names you it carries prophetic weight. The new name portends a new nature. This, after all, is the main purpose of Christ, the Messiah—to ‘save his people from their sins’, that is, to give them a new nature that overcomes, in some sense, the moral deficiencies that characterise a broken humanity. So while Peter was full of imperfection and often failed, Jesus nevertheless called him ‘The Rock’, a name that he, as it were, grew into. Similarly, Jacob was renamed Israel, ‘God contends’, symbolic of the shift from self-centred human endeavour to divine grace. This is perhaps what is behind the enigmatic words in the book of Revelation about being given a secret, personalised stone by God, a stone engraved with a new name (Rev. 2.17). (Names engraved on stones do not wash off.) Now I don’t know about you, but when I look back on my life I am painfully conscious of my shortcomings and failings. The fact that Christ has given me a new name that I will grow into gives me hope.
So back to the song. It is really a love song that focuses of the moral integrity of Christ, the light of the world. When I sing it live, I often project Ford Madox Brown’s image of Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet. As I have stressed in my Advent meditations, the glory of Christ is not so much an existential shining as a moral radiance that shines in marked contrast to the moral duplicity that characterises the selfishness of human nature. We must remember that although in Revelation ‘the elders’ (that is, those with authority) are portrayed as laying their crowns at the feet of Jesus (Revelation. 4.4,10)—a metaphor for relinquishing claims to autonomous rule—Jesus did this first. In the words of the song:
Your name is not like our own
You left your throne and took off your golden crown
To lay it at our feet.
In fact, I would argue that we are called to worship God not solely because God is the ultimate power in the universe and worthy of our worship, however much that may be the case, but because, ultimately, we are made in the image of a worshipping God. Jesus, who said, ‘if you have seen me, you have seen the Father’, practised worship. He chose the trajectory of kenosis, that is, submitting his will to that of the Father, but more strikingly, he kneels at our feet and washes them. If, as I often argue, the heart of worship is encapsulated in the word ‘submission’, I suggest that Jesus chooses to worship us as fallen humans in order that we might bear a new name—however unworthy of that honour we may be.
The curious paradox about Christian notions of personhood, that is, true identity as created personal beings, is that it is found when we, in some sense, relinquish it—not in the Buddhist sense of merging with the totality of being such that the gift of identity is lost, but by offering the divine gift of personhood back to its maker. In other words, it is to recognise that identity is a gift, one whose ultimate meaning can only be found through relationship with the giver. One might say that Christ is the perfect person because he perfectly laid down his life for others. And when we ‘lay our crowns’ at the feet of others a profound connection occurs, a de-centring if you like, through which we recognise and express our real identity. We were designed for a connectedness that releases our life to others and through which we receive life. Most profoundly, Christ invites us to connect with God and become part of the divine family. The writer of the book of Hebrews suggests that it was this expectation of an extended family that gave Jesus the courage to face the cross (Hebrews 12.2).
So to sing, ‘Lord I love your name for it speaks of who you are’, is to recognise, and reach towards, the ultimate moral beauty of the infinite God. In this troubled world, I long for that beauty, one characterised by righteousness and peace. I take comfort in the words of Jesus: ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’ (Mt. 5.6).
I write these words particularly for those of you who feel unsatisfied. In this world, which believes in the gospel of instant gratification, it is easy to feel a sense of inferiority when longings remain unfulfilled. But to long for righteousness and peace is simply to recognise that Christ’s work is, as yet, incomplete. The day will come when our longing will end.
LISTEN TO THE SONG
‘Your Name’ has, until now, never been recorded, partly because I was, at first, a little critical of it (as one should always be of one’s own art). I felt it was too sentimental, and the lounge jazz style was somewhat clichéd. However, it will, all being well, be the last track on the new album planned for this year.
I have recorded a demo of the song with my violinist friend Roman Patočka. If you’d like a free download of this demo, visit my music streaming website. I hope you enjoy it!