Our Names

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Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).

John 20:15-16

Mary thinks he’s the gardener, so she accuses Jesus of stealing his own body. Something blinds Mary from seeing Jesus for who he is – grief? Fear? Expectations that are too small? She looks at him but doesn’t see him.

But then Jesus says the all-important word: “Mary.” And she turns and her sadness vanishes in an instant of delight. And new hope, new life surges in to fill the void. “Teacher!” she shouts, and I imagine her jumping into his arms. Then Jesus gives her a task – to be the first to proclaim his resurrection.

So why does Jesus saying her name change the story? Why is this the pivotal word? Because saying Mary’s name proves Jesus’ relationship with her. Her name is the outward sign of her inward identity. In this way, names are quite sacramental. Know a name and you know something of the person. (Who among us didn’t feel elation when we found out our high school crush did, in fact, know our names?)

Saying Mary’s name is Jesus’ shorthand for saying that he has returned just as he promised and that life would never be the same again because their relationship would never end. This is the good news of the resurrection: Christ rose from the dead to show us that nothing, not even death, has the power to keep him from remaining in relationship with us. Christ knows each of our names. They are written in the book of life. They are written on his heart, just as his name is written on ours. As Jesus called Mary to deeper relationship by saying her name, he calls to each of us. He calls to each of us, speaking our names, and thus ourselves, into being.

-Adam Thomas

The next time you see a loved one – a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend – say his or her name aloud. It’s funny that we don’t often say those names, preferring instead nicknames or pronouns. This time say the name, hear it ring, feel the smile it brings to your face, notice the depth of relationship the name hints at. Could this be how Jesus felt when he said Mary’s name?

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