Some early Christians, like John the Evangelist, like to zero in on God's great love by stressing God's willingness to sacrifice Jesus for us. "God so loved the world," he writes, "that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life."

But even before Jesus' redemptive death and resurrection, people knew God loved them. One way they expressed that belief is contained in Sunday's first reading (Ex 34: 4-6, 8-9).

There's no mention in the Hebrew Scriptures of a Father, Son and Holy Spirit as we today apply these titles to the Trinity. The ancient Jews built much of their faith on a concept of God we often overlook: God's proper name.

Naming God

Unless one hears and understands the Exodus passage in its original Hebrew, it's impossible to understand the impact of these lines on their first readers. The name of the God the ancient Israelites followed isn't "Lord" or "God." Their God's proper name is "Yahweh." It's a personal name, like Mike, Jim, Joe or Rosie are personal names. We hear about that name first being revealed to Moses in the burning bush episode in Exodus 3.

Though the sacred author tells us there that Yahweh means, "I am who am," many Scripture scholars believe it also conveys the idea "I am who cause to be." Whatever its etymology, the important thing about Yahweh revealing His name to His people springs from a Semitic belief that knowing someone's name gives one a certain amount of power over that person.

Ancient Jews thought that your name conveys your whole personality. That's why you'd be crazy to let your enemies know your name. Ironically, this power aspect of name prompted later Jews to stop using Yahweh's name. They didn't want to give anyone the impression, especially Yahweh, that they had any power over God, so they substituted the title "Lord" for it.

Yet, their later scrupulosity doesn't diminish the excitement our faith-ancestors experienced in knowing how much Yahweh loved and trusted them. They knew we always risk being hurt when we reveal ourselves to those we love. They simply believed Yahweh's love forced Him to take that risk.

I don't think God approves of the movement to turn Yahweh into Lord. It certainly destroys the meaning of this passage. "Having come down in a cloud," the author writes, "Yahweh stood with Moses there and proclaimed His name, Yahweh. Thus Yahweh passed before him and cried out, 'Yahweh, Yahweh, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.'"

Love each other

Paul bases his belief that we should love and trust one another on this conviction that God loves and trusts us (2 Cor 13: 11-13). He writes the Christian community in Corinth, "Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you." He even brings that love down to earth with the famous statement, "Greet one another with a holy kiss."

The Apostle believes the only legitimate way to respond to God's taking a chance on us is by taking a chance on others. If God reveals His name to us, then we should reveal "our name" to others by acts of love.

When Paul wishes that "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you," he's not just interested in mentioning the Trinity's three names. He's concerned with making certain we understand how those three persons constantly give themselves to us.

Even if Christianity had never formulated the doctrine of "three persons in one God" at the council of Nicea in 325, or if John had never mentioned the love-motivated sacrifice of Jesus, we'd still know God loves us. The fact that we have God's name is proof of His love.