As Shakespeare famously had Juliet wondering out loud to Romeo, “What’s in a name?” The answer, in contrast to what Juliet hoped, seems to be “A lot!”
When we choose names for our babies we think very carefully about the possibilities. In the months leading up to birth we consult lists, maybe pay attention to names in the family, and listen to how various names sound to our ear. We often want a name that is unique and sounds beautiful to us. We stay away from combinations of names that result in initials that have negative connotations. It’s tricky to choose a name because we know there’s a lot in it. We know from our own experience that names shape us in profound and subtle ways.
People often do a double take when I introduce myself as Pastor Kristian. It seems like my “Christian name” held some kind of destiny for my life. (I was named after my great-grandparents, Christian and Christina Wold.) Perhaps it did. I know I value my name for how it reminds me of my identity as a follower of Jesus Christ.
There’s a lot in our personal names, and there’s also a lot in the names we choose for our institutions and communities. They shape who we are together in profound and subtle ways.
I don’t know the story of how our congregation was named. If anyone reading this does, please call and tell it to me! I imagine the founding pastor and charter members thought about traditional names for Lutheran churches, and what would be most fitting for their new congregation. The name Hope was chosen, perhaps reflecting the aspiration that people who were part of this community would reflect that virtue.
And perhaps they have, over the years. My experience of this congregation is of a people firmly grounded in their Lutheran identity, secure in the knowledge of their past tradition. But this is also a group of people that moves into the future with confidence, making wise plans with vision. The combination of a secure identity and graceful movement into the unknown future strikes me as the very definition of the word Hope.
There is a prayer, written by the Anglican priest Eric Milner-White in 1941 and included in Lutheran worship books since the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal, that perfectly expresses the virtue of hope, even though the word is not mentioned (but it mentions the two companion virtues of faith and love). It goes like this:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It seems like this is a prayer for our community and for our time more than ever. With COVID coming ever nearer to our circles of acquaintance (now touching some members of our own community), and transforming every aspect of our daily life, we indeed cannot see the ending. In terms of our worship, our mission, and our life together in community, these are paths as yet untrodden. With an airborne virus invisible to our senses in the population, there are certainly perils unknown all around us. The prayer acknowledges our reality.
And yet the prayer also expresses a deep confidence in God’s gentle and constant presence, like a shepherd leading us by still waters and preparing a table in the midst of our foes. The prayer asks for faith and courage from a God who has been loving and faithful in the past. The serenity of this prayer springs from its hope in a God whose mercy has proven to endure forever.
I commend this prayer to you. Perhaps you could copy it and paste it to the mirror you look in to start or end your day. Maybe you could include it in your daily devotions. Maybe it could be posted on your door, to be seen as you briefly step out into the world for your basic needs. You could even think of memorizing it.
The prayer can remind you that you are part of a community of hope. You are somebody whose identity as a Lutheran and a beloved child of God is secure. Because of that you can move through these challenging times with hope and confidence in God’s constant and loving presence.
When I address email notes or church announcements to groups in the community, I always enjoy naming who we are to start the note:
Dear Families of Hope…
Dear Musicians of Hope…
Dear Youth of Hope…
Dear People of Hope…
It reminds me, and I hope you too, that we are part of a community larger than ourselves, one that gives us identity and purpose as people of hope, with hope to share with the world.
Now, dear people of Hope, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:13)
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash