Lovers often use a secret language which only they can understand. We might, each of us, develop such a language, for holding conversations with our God. How do we address the Trinity in prayer? Are we lost for words?
As Christians, we believe, we’ll be saying it in the Creed in just a few minutes time, that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became one of us, became a human being, and lived for thirty-three years, as we do now, here on earth. That is why we study him so deliberately, examine his every action, scrutinize his every word. Although there are some, mostly in France I imagine, who claim that the three persons of the Trinity speak French among themselves, we are pretty sure that Jesus Christ, even though he is the Word of God, did not speak any of our European languages. He hadn’t a word of Irish, not even the proverbial Cúpla Focal. He never wrote anything himself, except one time with his finger in the sand. Everything we know about him was written down later, by others, and in Greek, which was the most universal language of the time. Whether he spoke Greek himself is disputed. Strange that the Word of God should be so tongue-tied.
So, what language did he speak? The answer, we are told, is Aramaic, a Semitic language, no longer spoken in the same way, or with the same prevalence, as it was back then. The Gospel this morning tells us that Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. These were Aramaic speaking communities as this had become the lingua franca of most of Western Asia at this time.
About ten times in the New Testament actual words in Aramaic are recorded. In prayer, Jesus used the word Abba to address his Father and our father. We too can use this word when we go into our rooms and close the door to pray to our father in secret [Matthew 6:6], as we have ben advised to do.
The moment Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus, after his resurrection, when he called her by her name in the garden, she spoke to him in Aramaic: Rabbouni, she said, which is something like a pet name for ‘my Lord and my God.’
We can use the word ourselves, to address the Second Person of the Trinity, our brother, our maker, our master, our friend. The First Epistle to the Corinthians [16:22] gives us an Aramaic salutation to the Holy Spirit which as a word is almost a song in itself: Maranatha it sings. Try it out for yourself.
This Gospel of Mark, which we heard this morning, gives us three other phrases for our teach yourself Aramaic course. Hosanna (Mark 11:9) which the people sang for the triumphal entry to Jerusalem, is useful for singing praise. Talitha cum (Mark 5:41) which Jesus spoke to the little girl that everyone thought was dead. It could means more or less “arra get up out of that!” And finally, today, this word spoken to us this morning and to the man in the Gospel who was blind and deaf and dumb. Ephphatha! Be Open.
It could well be that Jesus Christ came on earth to say only this one word; it is certainly being said to each one of us who hear him this morning. Its Aramaic but it’s also pretty obvious. Be open wide: open to everything, with everything, for everything. Don’t be blind, don’t be deaf, don’t be dumb. Sharpen every one of your senses to experience the world as it is, in all its glory.’The glory of God is each one of us fully alive, fully open.’ And through our openness the world can enter in and the world can sing.
Armed with our little book of useful phrases in Aramaic, we can make our way through the land of the living:
Abba, Rabouni, Talitha cum; Ephphatha, Hosanna, Maranatha, Amen.