Lists of names can be very oppressive. I can think of two places where I have stood and felt utterly overwhelmed: in front of the Menin Gates near Ypres on which are engraved 54,395 names of soldiers who died in the two world wars, and inside the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, where there is a installation of a huge library of books, containing the names of all 6 million men women and children obliterated in that horror.
The other day I took a funeral in a very large cemetery. I had arrived early and to pass the time I decided to walk around the graveyard.
So many tombstones.
So many names.
So many beloved “this” or beloved “that”. In less than five minutes I had seen the graves of 4 ‘Sheila’s’ – perhaps that was enough reason for me to feel a shudder of my own mortality, let alone the fact that I was there for the purpose of laying someone else’s beloved ‘Mum/Nan/Daughter’ to rest.
Too many names in a list can leave us feeling the impossible smallness of our lives – we wonder if we count, if we will be remembered?
Such a mass of humanity. And one day my name will be carved onto a crusty old piece of stone and left to be covered over by the grass. Even the words of the funeral service which I said so shortly afterwards seem to confirm this sense of our insignificance.
“Our days are like grass:
We flourish like a flower of the field;
When the wind goes over it, it is gone
and its place will know it no more.”
And YET, the very same passage continues: “BUT the merciful goodness of the Lord endures for ever and ever towards those that fear him and his righteousness upon their children’s children”. (that’s got to be one of the best ‘buts’ in scripture!)
This is a ringing declaration of the faithfulness of God to his covenant of love with humankind.
God is faithful to us, even when we are unfaithful to him. I choose to believe and trust that the God who chooses to include lists and lists of names in his word to us, values, remembers each and every one.
I choose to trust when God says “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”. Yes, I know the ‘you’ in that verse is plural and not singular, but I read it alongside Jesus’s words that even the hairs on my head are numbered and that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without God’s awareness.
I choose to trust that, unworthy as I am, my name is written in the Lamb’s book of life, and come the day when that book is opened I believe we might all be very surprised who else is names are found there alongside ours. Names of those we might have ‘judged’ (even though we are very clearly instructed not to judge) unworthy. Names of those whose knowledge of God might have felt unlikely, or theologically dodgy, but who are nevertheless ‘known unto God’.
If we believe in a God who flung stars into space, and knows them all by name, (and there are billions and billions of stars) then I think we have a God who is big enough to remember and hold all the children he created on one small, blue and beautiful planet.
If we do, we can say with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And, after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God”.(Job 19:26)
(P.S the first edition of this blog post had some hilarious typo and extra sentences due to me using voice activated softward to type… and answering a phone call without turning off the microphone! Sorry about that)