All week we have been naming names.
In Pittsburgh: Irving, Joyce, Richard, Rose, Jerry, Cecil, David, Bernice, Sylvan, Daniel, Melvin.
In Jeffersonville, KY: Maurice, Vickie.
In Chicago: Deshawn, Kenjian, Peter.
These are just some of the names of those who died this week, victims of senseless violence (is there such a thing as sense-full violence?). At vigils and funerals all over the country, these women and men were remembered by name by those who loved them.
On Sunday, we will name names, as well. On the Festival of All Saints, we give thanks for all those who have gone before us into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is our custom at Ascension to record the names of the recently deceased in our Book of Remembrance, so that we might announce their names during worship. Phil. Audrey. Erwin. Donna. Each of the more than 50 names in our Book of Remembrance belongs to a brother or sister, husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, friend or neighbor whom we miss.
On Sunday, we will call out another name—the name of a man none of us has met, but whose name is known around the world. He is known not because of what he did, but because of what Jesus did through him. Lazarus!
We are honored to welcome Metro Chicago Synod Bishop Wayne Miller to Ascension on Sunday. Bishop Miller doesn’t “read” the gospel in worship. He “tells” it. And in his telling the story of Lazarus, he will shout Lazarus’ name just as Jesus did. (John 11) But unlike our naming of the dead, when Jesus called Lazarus’ name, something happened. Life happened. Nothing like it had been seen before or since, but when our names are on Jesus’ lips, life happens.
I imagine that after Jesus’ shouted his name and linen-wrapped Lazarus lurched from the grave, his sisters wept his name. Lazarus! We missed you! Lazarus! You’re alive! Lazarus! Come home!
It probably seemed as foolish to call the name of the dead then as it does now. The dead can’t hear. The dead can’t respond. But, when we name the dead they come to life in our imaginations and hearts.
Sometimes we hesitate to name the dead, for fear of stoking grief in the bereaved. But I have learned that it is a gift for the grieving to hear their loved one’s name again. To know that others remember. To have opportunity to tell a story. To lighten the burden of grief that accompanies them, regardless of what we say or do.
Please join us on the Festival of All Saints. We’ll be naming names.
Pastor JoAnn Post