I believe that your name is significant in relation to your identity; and that your identity is significant in relation to the battles you face in the war between a thief who comes to kill, steal and destroy and a shepherd who comes that we might experience life in all its fullness. I see this over and over again in the Bible, in the stories of men and women, and even communities of people, the meanings of whose names are often explained in the footnotes.
My parents gave me the name ‘Andrew Christopher.’ It means, [the man] [who follows Christ]. All my life, I have wanted to be a man who follows Christ. A man: one who leads others so that they, too, can follow Christ. And that has been the battle-ground for my identity.
Like Jesus on the cross, every one of us has had our heart pierced by something sharp. A cut to the heart of who we are; a wounding of our identity. The thief’s cut to my heart is the word, “you can’t be a man.” Or perhaps, if our identity comes from God’s intention for us, those words come in the same form as to Eve in the Garden, “Did God really say...[you are the man]?”
All my life, I have heard other people around me declare the message: “You are just a child...You are not capable of making your own judgements...You need to think what I tell you is right to think...You need to do things my way...”
And I add to the wound by deciding that I will prove them all wrong – a declaration that is, ironically, childish...and becomes an obstacle to following Christ...
It is not that this is necessarily what has been said – though sometimes, I believe, it has been – but, because of the wound I bear and because of my response to that wound, it is what I have heard. If I am honest, I hear these words echo throughout my curacy – “you are not ready to be a vicar” (though I know I am not the only curate who struggles with this). And I say to myself, “I thought we’d dealt with this one...why am I so slow to learn?”
In this way, identity is stolen, and authority neutralised. Ultimately, the temptation is to abandon the identity God intends for us.
Our identity and our authority both come from God. But our authority – to bring the kingdom of heaven into this world – flows out of our identity – as sons of the King. And if we have a particular identity as well as a common identity, then that has a bearing on the way in which we will be called to exercise authority.
Jesus’ name means “God saves!” It is the same name as “Joshua” who lead the people into the promised land, crossing the Jordan River and taking Jericho. Jesus was baptised in the Jordan near Jericho, and then climbed up out of the rift valley into the wilderness, to reflect on his identity and how it would inform his authority: he comes to take the land for God, but how will he go about it?
Lent is an echo of those days in the wilderness. It is a season to allow the Father to (send his angels to) minister to our identity, and so to inform our authority.