FROM THE RECTOR
In Romeo and Juliet, the “star-crossed lovers”, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, are doomed from the outset because their families have a long-running feud and they are on opposite sides of the divide. One of the play’s most famous scenes takes place in an orchard. Romeo, who is hidden from sight, watches as Juliet appears at a window. Unaware that he is there listening, she declares her love for him. In an imaginary conversation with him, she pleads with him to “refuse thy name”. She continues, in her famous soliloquy:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection…
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
… which is no part of thee.
There is power in a name. Names in biblical times carried more significance than they do nowadays. A name itself may be considered a prayer, which can impart a blessing on the named person. Many Hebrew names contain references to God, for example, such as the name Elijah, which is made up of El, meaning God, and Jah, a reference to Yahweh.
There is creative power in a name. In Exodus, standing before the burning bush, Moses asked God’s name so he could tell the Israelites who had sent him to them. The Lord replied, “I am who I am.” This may be translated as “I create what I create.” God’s creative power is sometimes expressed by renaming someone, as a form of blessing. Think of Abram and Sarai, for example, whose names were changed by God to Abraham and Sarah, and of Peter, whom Jesus renamed from Simon Peter.
In Shakespeare’s play, Juliet expresses the idea that a name is merely an artificial and meaningless convention. She may be right in some ways, and her idea is certainly more aligned with our secular concept of what a name represents than with ancient Jewish tradition. Rather than seeing a name as a blessing from God, parents-to-be generally choose a baby’s name based on taste or fashion, or possibly name their baby after a celebrity.
So as we begin a new year let’s commit to making a fresh start – to living as children of the Father, worthy of God’s name and blessing. Let’s commit to passing on this blessing to one another and all creation, by showing respect and honour. Let’s extend this blessing to those in our intimate circle, those we know but not so well, and those in public life. And let’s acknowledge the greater truth that lies beneath this – that we are named by God as God’s children.
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Please note that FRIDAY is my day off!