I have called you by name, you are mine

Revd. Dominic
Sunday, May 3, 2020 - 9:30am

Fourth Sunday of Easter - Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name, you are mine. 


Risen Christ,

faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep:

teach us to hear your voice

and to follow your command,

that all your people may be gathered into one flock,

to the glory of God the Father.


Acts 2:42-47

John 10:1-10


Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name, you are mine. 

A friend of mine, a hospital doctor who has recently been seconded to an ITU ward to help out in these strange times, shared with me this week a picture of himself in full personal protective equipment, a somewhat unnerving sight. He is, as you might imagine, fairly unrecognisable, but across his gown and across his visor his name is emblazoned in permanent marker. 

That’s a fairly important practical measure, of course: you can only imagine the chaos that might ensue if all of these largely unrecognisable masked figures had no idea who each were.

 It also preserves just an ounce of a shared humanity behind the dehumanising isolation that we are all going through at the moment. Knowing somebody’s name doesn’t mitigate the fact that you can’t see their face, and start getting to know the whole person, but it still gives you a handle, a starting point, on who they might be. It gives you a way to speak to them as a person, rather than just viewing them, as, literally, faceless. 

Most of the time when we hear our names spoken it’s for a relatively trivial, practical purpose. But names are also, of course, an intimate part of our identity. Any time we hear our name spoken it has the potential to recall us to who we are. Everything we experience, every relationship that we are part of, everything that we set out to do, is done by us under the names that we have. Hearing our name spoken recalls us, to some extent, to all of that bundle of emotion and experience and memory and love that makes up each of us.

 All of this reminds me of the Easter Sunday morning reading we heard a few weeks ago, from the gospel of John, where Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb supposes the risen Jesus to be the gardener. It is only when Jesus calls her by her name that she realises who he is. It’s a joyful, tender moment. As the prophet Isaiah says: fear not, I have redeemed you: I have called you by name, you are mine. At that moment that Jesus says Mary’s name and she recognises him, that whole world of their relationship, their shared experience together, a reality that Mary imagined to be lost comes flooding back into being.  

There is a lot in this morning’s gospel from chapter 10 of John’s gospel, possibly my favourite passage in the whole of scripture, but I couldn’t help being drawn this week to the idea that the good shepherd is the good shepherd because he knows his sheep by name, and the sheep know his voice as he calls them by their names. It’s exactly that exchange that we see being enacted in the garden between Jesus and Mary: she recognises his voice as he calls her by name. 

It is an extraordinary, intimate picture of a God who cares so deeply for us as to call us by our names. It is, though, more powerful even than that. As Psalm 139 reminds us ‘it was you [O Lord] who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb’. When the Lord who is the Good Shepherd calls us by our names, he does not do so as one who is only just beginning to learn who this human called such and such is: he calls us by our names in full knowledge of who we are; for, as God says in the book of Isaiah: you are mine. 

We are God’s because he created us. And so when the Good Shepherd calls us by our name, it recalls us not only to what we perceive ourselves to be, but recalls us to every single thing that God calls us to be, to every single thing that God created us to be. He created us, and knows us better than we know ourselves.

And so this Sunday whatever isolation we are in, whatever masks, real or imagined, that we hide ourselves behind, know that the Lord who is Father and Holy Spirit, and who walked among us as Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, know that he sees through it all, to the person that each of us was created to be. Every bit of it is his. The good that we see in ourselves he blesses; what we perceive to be the bad, that which we fear and shy away from he redeems, heals, makes new. It is through this intimate knowledge that the Good Shepherd calls each one of us by our name to the life in all its abundance that he promises for us. It is through this that he says: fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name. You are mine. Amen.