Andy Hawes reflects on the power of the name of Jesus

The year begins with the feast of ‘The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.’ The name of Jesus is Lord’s first gift to us. The giving of the name is the heart of the Annunciation Gospel and an integral part of the message of Gabriel to Our Lady: ‘and thou shalt call his name Jesus.’ Jesus is the diminutive of Joshua and means ‘God saves’. That the name is the familiar or colloquial version of the name of Moses’ successor as commander of the Israelites is significant in itself. It is entirely consistent with Jesus teaching us to call God Almighty ‘Abba’ or ‘Dad’. These are the names that are used when we call out for someone we love in fear or in moments of joy we need to share.

We are given this name as the chief means of enabling a personal and intimate relationship. My barber (a Baptist lay preacher) once remarked to me that ‘many men sit in this chair and talk about Christ, but they seldom talk about Jesus.’ In naming Our Lord Jesus we are immediately drawn into the mystery of the Incarnation – God with is – sharing every aspect of our humanity.

The name Jesus roots our relationship in the everyday. In its most refined and yet powerful expression, prayer is the simple act of spending time with Jesus and opening our hearts to him. We must always remember the proclamation of St Peter in the Pentecost sermon (Acts 2): ‘this [risen] Jesus is the same one you crucified.’ The one who is ‘God saves’ is the one wrapped in cloths both in the manger and in the newly cut tomb. The name ‘Jesus’ is a constant proclamation of the whole Gospel.

There have been in past times a great devotion to the name of Jesus and we partake in this devotion through the poetry which has made its way into our hymnals. This tradition, which flowered in the twelfth century, had a profound effect which was felt by succeeding generations, and is expressed in both the Revelations of Julian of Norwich and the Cloud of Unknowing.

Take for example the verse ‘No voice can sing, no heart can frame, nor can the memory find, a sweeter sound than Jesu’s name, the Saviour of mankind.’ Hymns are a terrific means of closeness to Jesus. These include Newton’s ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s hear! It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds and drives away his fear.’ There is the hymn of praise At the Name of Jesus, which is the fruit of contemplation on Philippian’s Chapter 2.

The Jesus Prayer is a powerful use of the name of Jesus to draw the one who prays into the presence of Christ. It uses some of the titles of Jesus and compounds them into both a declaration of faith and an act of adoration, ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God,’ then comes the petition, ‘take pity (or have mercy) on me a sinner.’ This one sentence, repeated with attentive and loving devotion, grafts the name of Jesus into the consciousness, opening one to the activity of God’s love in its reconciling and healing work. This is exactly why Gabriel gave this precious name to Mary.