Standing within the gates: What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Palestine; Israel and the Palestinian Territories; the Occupied Territories; the Holy Land; Eretz Israel; the Land of the Holy One

Christian; Messianic Jew; Completed Jew; Jewish Believer

Christ; Jesus; Yeshua; Jesus of Nazareth; Jesus the Messiah; Lord

I have spent this week at Christ Church which has a particular ministry to Jewish people; most of my time has been listening to people who have been incredibly generous with their time and stories. I have drunk umpteen cups of coffee and numerous mugs of fresh mint tea.

Christ Church cafe

Christ Church coffee shop where I am spending lots of my time!

Christ Church cafe interior

It has extremely comfortable sofas and free wifi!

It has been humbling and exciting to listen to people tell me about their faith and what the Lord has done for them. Being a Christian in Jerusalem is difficult: they are a tiny minority and therefore they tend to be extremely committed to their faith. It is particularly difficult for Jewish people who have come to believe in Jesus; a recent survey in the city said that these were the most hated group in society.

Since I arrived, I have been navigating a minefield of language. and I have found myself repeatedly asking Juliet’s question: ‘What’s in a name?’. The answer seems to be everything and nothing (a good Anglican answer!). One of the challenges of Jerusalem is that names are deeply meaningful; it is common in England to have no idea what our name means and to give little thought to what it means when we choose one name for something over another. It is not the case here; as we know from our Bibles, names mean something and are given to people because of their meaning. From the comfort of Hampshire, we can be inclined to use the various names for our country rather interchangeably: Britain; British Isles; UK. Here the name you choose has deeply political implications and people will make assumptions about what you think, whether it was what you intended or not.

In England we probably do not think too much about calling ourselves Christians; for the people here it matters very much. Some of those I have met are happy to be called a Christian; for others the term has been poisoned by centuries of Christian anti-Semitism. For some I have listened to, being a Messianic Jew is their preferred name; others say this is inadequate as there are a number of messianic groups in Jerusalem, all with their own messiah. For some I have spent time with, Completed Jew is the term which best describes them as they have accepted the Old and New Covenants (the Old Covenant is the one God made with the Jewish people; the New Covenant is the one we have through Jesus); others recoil at this and see it as anti-Semitic. For others, Jewish Believer is the the name they prefer, indeed it seems to be the most neutral and is the one I am using most, though I suppose you could ask ‘Jewish Believer in what?’.

What we call Jesus is equally pregnant with meaning here and something that is important to the people I have spoken with. Christ is rarely used as a title; it is a Greek word that is considered alien to Jewish culture and again has unhappy associations with anti-Semitism. Jesus or more commonly Yeshua (the Hebrew version of his name) are less complicated but they are most likely to call him Jesus of Nazareth to root him in his time and culture or Jesus the Messiah to explain why he matters. With so many gods around, in conversation and liturgy the people I am meeting are wanting to be clear who it is that they are speaking of, who it is that they are worshipping, and therefore prefer to say the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or Jesus the Messiah. They are worshipping the God of the Bible, not Allah or the god of society or some god of our own creation. They are bowing at the name of Jesus, God incarnate, who is the Messiah of all people, Jews and Gentiles.

In the midst of this minefield, people have been keen to stress that whilst names matter, they are also completely unimportant. What matters to them is the Lord: their focus is on following him; worshipping him; telling others about him. I have been deeply humbled by the faith of those I have met and enormously encouraged. When Moses asked God his name God answered from the burning bush: ‘I am’. When Jesus was asked who he was he said ‘I am the way, the truth, the life’. The people here know this to be true and are trying to live it out for which I am giving thanks to God.

The central Communion table in Christ Church. The Hebrew words across the top say 'do this in remembrance'/ The central design is of a crown over the word Immanuel in Hebrew.

The central Communion table in Christ Church. The Hebrew words across the top say ‘do this in remembrance’. The central design is of a crown over the word Immanuel in Hebrew.

I am giving thanks for the people I have met, for their many kindnesses and generosity.
I am praying for peace with justice for all who live in Jerusalem and for the work of Christ Church.

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