the spiritual director
But now, this is what the Lord says - he who created you, O Jacob, he who for med you O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine,’ Isaiah 43:1
I have been visiting some folk who keep pigs. When the time comes the pigs ar e sent off to a local abattoir to be slaughtered and that evening sausages fr om the most r ecent batch wer e ser ved up for supper . ‘So who was this one?’ someone joked as they spear ed a sausage. ‘ We don’t give them names’, came back the response. ‘That way we don’t get attached to them.’ As someone who keeps chickens I know what they mean. All my hens have names and ther e is no way that Emily is going to end up on the menu.
Names are important. We spend hours choosing names for our children, our pets, even inanimate objects like cars. Names are deeply personal and they provide identity. Some of us may not like our names ver y much and may have changed them to one that seems to resonate or identify us mor e truthfully or in keeping with our personalities. The person who conveys the name is usually someone significant. In the case of a par ent the naming of a child is a sign of the relationship with him or her. To neglect to give a child a name is to render that child a nobody, not worth noticing.
The prophet Isaiah is bringing a word of hope to his people who ar e under judgement and feeling far from God. Isaiah reminds his people that God is nevertheless passionately involved with his people. After all he cr eated them. He has not given them up but has redeemed them. They need not be afraid.
Imagine a child lost in the dark, alone and frightened. What does that child want to hear more than anything? Surely it is a loving parent calling them by name. When they hear their name called by the one who loves them more than anyone else, what relief, what reassurance and hope will leap in their hearts. Someone has come to look for them, someone who loves them and is on their side, someone who will not rest till they are safe in their arms once again.
This is the God who has committed himself to Israel and to us. ‘Fear not,’ he says to his people, ‘I have called you by name; you ar e mine.’ As children of the same loving heavenly father , we too are being invited to hear God call us by name and know that we are his. We are to be sure that we are precious in his sight, we matter, we are not nameless individuals who are dispensable or just one of a crowd.
Recently the Anglican lectionary focused on Jesus the good shepherd. ‘He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out,’ (John 10:3b). This same good shepherd goes out to look for the lost sheep and ultimately lays down his life for them. This is the first foundation for our spiritual life.