Transforming Acts: The Power of the Name (Bruce Epperly)
In his fourth installment of his journey through the book of Acts, he comes to chapters 3 and 4, chapters in which transformative ministry begins to move out into the community, and it is done "in the name of Jesus." It is interesting that the first chapter of Ephesians, a letter that may have been written at about the same time as Acts, and perhaps from within the same broader Pauline community, also lifts up the preposition "in." So the question for today has to do with the nature of the power that is present in the name of Jesus and how we should understand that name and its power today.
Transforming Acts: The Power of the Name
Acts 3 begins with a healing story in which a man with paralysis is cured by invoking the name of Jesus. This healing story begs the question: Is there a special power in the name of Jesus? Does the invocation of Jesus' name have some spiritual and metaphysical power that can change minds, bodies, and spirits? Can the faithful mentioning of Jesus' name open up an energetic force field through which God is able to do extraordinary things for our well-being? Do other names carry healing power? In Acts, chapters 3 and 4, Peter heals in the name of Jesus and the early church experiences signs and wonders through invoking Jesus' name.
Could Jesus' name be a life-transforming mantra - a power word - not unlike the Hindu “Om”? The biblical tradition asserts that God creates through the word (Genesis and John). The wisdom of God moves over the waters, creates through all things, and enlightens all human beings. Words matter: holy words join our spirits with what Herbert Benson (Relaxation Revolution) describes as "remembered wellness," our primordial wholeness that brings health and healing to our hearts. The word of God sets in motion vibrations that create, restore, and reestablish order. The name "Jesus" was a power word for those first Christians, a word that focused and expanded God's presence and power in their lives. Many Christians today still use the name of Jesus to mediate power, healing, and protection. I personally use the name of Jesus to center myself when I am giving Reiki healing touch attunements: for me Jesus’ name grounds the dynamic energy in Jesus’ ministry and field of force.
The Biblical tradition proclaims that God's word is present in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. The author of Acts proclaims boldly that there is salvation in no other name. But, what does this affirmation really mean? Is the presence of God in Christ inclusive or exclusive? On the one hand, salvation in Christ can mean that wherever we experience wholeness, God is its source and that Jesus mediates that wholeness to us. Jesus Christ is the ultimate source of all saving ways. The love and wisdom manifest in his life give birth to all authentic religious experience, Christian and non-Christian alike.
In contrast, does this apparent limitation on salvation to Christ alone mean that only when we assent to this name we find wholeness? From this perspective, apart from invoking Jesus' name in some prescribed way we are lost.
Or, is there truth in both. That is, God's power is everywhere, operating in all creatures, and seeking the well-being of all creation, but when we assent to its media greater power flows through us. Jesus Christ - or speaking in the name of Christ - elicits unique energies to heal, transform, and save human beings. This does not rule out God's healing and saving revelation in other faith traditions, but describes the unique and effective power of Jesus' name to bring healing and wholeness. As a Christian mantra, the name of Jesus creates a protective and energizing field of force around us and those for whom we pray. This protective power is evident, for example, in the Celtic caim or encircling, in which a person draws a circle around himself with the right index finger and says words like “Christ in me…Christ before me…behind me…above me…beneath me.” In life and death, the power of Christ is present to save and protect.
Finally, openness to the word of God in Christ's life inspires boldness in proclaiming the good news. These are days in which we need boldness - we need to be shaken from complacency in terms of issues of global climate change, justice, care for the vulnerable, and our role in sharing good news. This is a matter of both meaning and action, of responding to the cultural thirst for wholeness and also the deep needs of our society and planet.
Boldness is called for today: boldness born of passion in God's healing presence and our calling to be God's partners in healing the earth. Awakening to Jesus’ field of force by calling out his name is one way we gain courage and wisdom for the journeys that lie before us.
Bruce Epperly is a seminary professor and administrator at Lancaster Theological Seminary, pastor, theologian, and spiritual companion. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, a response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. His Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry, written with Katherine Gould Epperly, was selected 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy.His most recent book is From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Worship and Music in the Small Church, written with Daryl Hollinger.