True Identities

I bristle when people mispronounce my family name, saying BurBACK instead of Burbach. Why is it so complicated? Football fans don’t say, Roger Stauback! Music aficionados know better than to say Johann Sebastian BACK! It’s BACH, thank you very much!

I’ve heard that my Nebraska branch of the family softened the name to a “k” during the early to mid-20th century. They feared being seen as anti-American and wanted to separate themselves from our German roots. Many adopted “back” to emphatically distinguish themselves from Nazi-sympathizes.

The original Milwaukee branch of the family never felt such need to prove its patriotism and have always been known as Burbach. Names say a lot about how we see ourselves, what we have to prove, about our place in community, about our self-esteem.

Up until about 15 years ago I introduced myself as Dick. I still recall with a chuckle being first told that my name was really Richard. That instruction began when I was about 4. As a pre-schooler I understood myself to be Dickie — though for a time some in the family tried to saddle me with “Butch”. By about the time I began kindergarten I had concluded that my real name must be Dickie-Richard.

Clearly, names carry meaning. They express identity. I fully understand those who go from Betsy to Elizabeth. I have much greater appreciation for what women choose if they take their husband’s name at marriage.  About 15 years ago I decided I no longer wanted to be a Dick and made the shift to Richard. Family and friends seem to have taken well to the shift.

Though I don’t bristle as I do with the mispronunciation of my family name, I am increasingly caught off guard when an old-timer refers to me as Dick. Mostly, I just smile in gratitude that this comes from a really old friend.  Names carry meaning, express identity. My name is Richard — it’s simply who I am!

All this having been said, you will understand why the Gospel (John 20:11-18) proposed for today, the Tuesday of Easter, is one of my favorites. Mary of Magdala is at the tomb, turns, sees Jesus but does not recognize him. Jesus asks, “‘Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’”

A few things make this one of my favorite passages. It’s so personal, so intimate. Even more, I cherish that Mary did not recognize her dear friend. Who he was now was not who he had been! He’s changed. She had him boxed-up in a tomb. Now he was different and no longer fit her preconceptions!

Do we try to keep Christ in our self-prescribed boxes? Do we feel more secure with the Jesus we have known? Having him out and about — perhaps even appearing to people and showing up in places we wouldn’t expect or approve — can be down right unsettling and disconcerting!

But notice, it is in the speaking of her name that Mary recognizes the one she loves as alive! The restoration of this relational bond, this recognition and expression of personal identity bridges any and all change in externals. Meaning, identity, sense of oneself within community is not just restored, it is recognized as indelible!

Mary didn’t recognize Jesus at first because the way he appeared wasn’t what she was looking for? What would it look like if Christ were to appear to you today? Are you ready to be surprised… maybe even taken off guard?

How would Christ speak your name today? What tone, texture and temperament would his voice express? Which of your names would he use? How would he pronounce it to fully express the meaning, identity and intimacy of your one, unique and indelible relationship?

Allow yourself to be surprised, even changed by your encounter! Who are you, anyway?

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