When I get to heaven there is one thing I don't want to see: name tags.
I don't want to walk up to the pearly gates and see a small rickety card table with blank name tags and markers scattered across the top.
I don't want to hear God whisper to one of the angels, "See that short guy with small feet over there? What's his name again?" The angel replies, "Give me a sec. Uh, that's ol' what's-his-name ..." as he scratches his angelic head.
I hope and believe God knows my name and God knows yours too — now and forever. As Christians, we talk a lot about grace — God's unconditional love of each of us. The sweetness of grace is tasted when another person remembers our names.
Last year I ran into one of my old college professors after a concert.
"Dr. Parr," I said, "Great to see you again. My name is ...."
"Mike," he interrupted, "I remember you ...."
Remember me? Really? I was your average college student. And yet, even after having thousands of students pass through his classroom, Dr. Parr remembered my name.
I don't expect people to remember my name. It may be because I secretly hope that others also don't remember names. Because he remembered me, I experienced grace through Dr. Parr.
As a pastor, I'm trying to be better at remembering names, but my mind tends to be like a kitchen strainer. A name and face go into the strainer, and out of the bottom comes the name leaving only the face. I see people all the time say, "Hey!" and quickly move to the handshake and a "What's going on?" or "How have you been?" to cover my memory lapse.
I'm glad God is better than I am at names. "I have called you by name, you are mine," God tells us (Isaiah 43:1). If Dr. Parr can remember my name after nearly 20 years, couldn't the creator of the universe, the redeemer of humanity, remember our names?
As a reaction to the Jesus-and-me movement within some Christian churches, I believe Lutherans tend to overemphasize that many of the "you" pronouns in the Bible are plural, not singular. We say things like, "Remember, Paul wrote to a community of Christians, not individuals" and "When God says in Isaiah, 'I have called you by name, you are mine' God is referring to the entire people of Israel, not individuals."
It's the ecclesiastical equivalent of "There's no 'I' in the word 'team.' "
I get it. But emphasizing the plural over the singular risks making God into a being who will look at individuals and say, "I know you. You are one of them."
I like to think Jesus meant it literally when he said, "But even the hairs of your head are all counted" (Luke 12:7). God knows each one of us personally, knows where we sit and lie down, knows our thoughts ... and even knows our names.
When we get to heaven we'll find it just as Jesus promised. Every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more mourning, crying, pain or death. And no more name tags. God already knows you.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers