What did you say your name was again? As always, What's-Her-Name looked bored and made no reply. I've been asking her this for years now, and have never gotten an answer.
Noodle was in the big tree, just above our heads, wondering just how to go about getting down. Kate was probably asleep among the irises. That was three cats. The fourth, an immense grey tiger tabby version of Noodle, strolled past on the other side of the driveway. I began to introduce her to our visitor, but stopped, puzzled: I couldn't remember her name.
I looked at her and she looked at me. What is that cat's name? It wasn't even on the tip of my tongue. I stood there, embarrassed, for a full minute, joking about my lapse of memory. Q came by and I asked him the cat's name. Gypsy, he said at once. Gypsy. Of course. I've written about her. I've called her to come inside a thousand times. How could I have forgotten her name?
A memory: a young woman pulls me aside at coffee hour. She is trying not to be distraught, but she is blinking back tears: The rector forgot my name! It was a parish in which he always said each person's name as he administered the bread: "Mary, the Body of Christ. Frank, the Body of Christ. Susan, the Body of Christ." And when he got to her, he blanked on her name. Nothing. "The Body of Christ," he said, admitting defeat, and went along the line of outstretched crossed hands.
If I hadn't already come to the conclusion on my own that this isn't the best of practices, her hurt would have taken me there. The point of the naming thing at communion, of course, is to show forth the intimacy and love of the gathered community. We know each other here, and we are known. He knows my name. This is a special moment of closeness in Christ's name.
But what about the newcomer? After hearing Betty and Bobby and Fred and Linda receive their very own personalized bit of communion bread, what must it be like to get one via general delivery? This is a very intimate community, and I'm not part of it.
We are so hungry for human community in this anonymous age; of course we celebrate it mightily when we find it in church. Savor it. A circle of people who know us, care about us. They know my name. I matter here.
And yet, sweet as it is, the blessed circle of human intimacy isn't all church is about. It isn't just that we love each other. It's that God loves us, loves us into being, loves those we don't know, loves those we don't even like. If the circle of God's love must be a circle small enough so that we can name everyone in it, we'll have to content ourselves with a much smaller God than we really have.