Hands can do a lot. One woman remembers when she was little, she and her grandpa would go ice fishing. When they were back home, he would take her socks and boots off, and hold her feet in his hands until they were warm again. That woman remembers her grandpa’s hands. Some experience discomfort with our hands because of arthritis. Our hands are what we use to touch someone with love, comfort, understanding, and…anger. We instruct our children and grandchildren on what good touch and bad touch are. We feed ourselves, and sometimes others, with our hands. We clean ourselves with our hands. We use a handshake, a pat on the back, or a hug to bless people and to let them know we care for and love them. We use our hands to comfort those grieving with a hand and arm around the shoulder, to celebrate a victory or a success with a high five, to hand a gift to someone for an accomplishment, birthday, or because it’s the right thing to do. Hands are used in not such good ways either, but that’s for some other time.
The hand is the silent voice. Next to the mouth, hands do the most speaking, especially if you come from an Italian family. Most preachers would smother to death if they had their hands tied behind them. I like what a fellow pastor said, “Several years ago, I cut three fingers badly in an accident. I told the emergency room doctor that I could lose any of those fingers except the index finger on my right hand. I needed that one to point when I preach.”
How different our lives would be if we could not use our hands to reach out. Our hands make us human. In a book on prayer, Henri Nouwen said it’s impossible to pray with clenched fists. Clenched fists are a sign of bitterness and hate. The truth is, there is very little we can do with a clenched fist, except punch somebody’s lights out. Try to peal a banana with a fist. Try to play the piano with a fist. Try to plant your garden with clenched fists. You can do almost nothing unless your hands are open.
If Jesus were a carpenter, as tradition likes to say he was, he began his training as a carpenter’s apprentice in his father’s shop. His hands cut lumber and fashioned rough boards into objects of use: tables, chairs, door frames, and hitching posts. When he began his public ministry, he did so with the hands of someone who had love and compassion for people. He went into Simon Peter’s home, laid his hands on his mother-in-law, and healed her of a fever. When children came to him, he would gather them with his hands,
bless them, and tell everyone around them children were the sign of God’s kingdom. When a blind man approached him one day, Jesus spat in the dirt and made mud with his hands with which to apply to the man’s eyes. His sight was restored. He laid his hands on a dead girl, bringing her back to life.
I’m sure his hands weren’t soft. They had to be calloused and toughened. But they were more than just that. They were also gentle, inviting, healing, and full of hope. Real men don’t need to tough guys. Real people, good people care, show compassion, try to heal, and help. Human hands, God’s people’s hands are open, working, building, and hopeful hands. We can change the world for the good with our hands.
We see churches emphasize putting hands in the air when they’re singing and worshiping. I think that’s great. Worshiping hands are wonderful. Still, when it comes to faith, hands shouldn’t just go up in praise. They should go down for work and labor. As Psalm 90:17 says, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us and prosper the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands!”
In today’s passage, the disciples are gathered when Jesus suddenly appears among them. They’re scared and skeptical. To help them overcome this, Jesus shows them his old but now new hands and feet. These are the same hands he had used to put mud on a blind man’s eyes, yes, and the same feet Lazarus’s sister Mary had anointed with an expensive perfume and then dried with her hair—and they’re the hands and feet that had been nailed to a cross. Jesus invites his friends to see that he was wounded and scarred, but he’s also alive and resurrected.
In fact, that’s the point. Jesus’ scars in his hands are the point. They’re his work. What happened to his hands is the work he did for us. Jesus carried his work with him. The work he did he carried in his hands and body, and the nail prints are the proof, the showing, of it.
Most people want to avoid showing any consequences to living, at least in their own bodies. We’d like skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom for the rest of our lives. No wrinkles, no worry or frown lines. We wish a surgery’s mark left behind in our skin would disappear. We get older and we don’t stand as tall, and we may even lean over some. Gray hair is colored until it simply can’t be done any longer or it costs too much.
But there are moms who realize that pregnancy stretch marks are things of beauty, and wrinkles are worthy testimony to one’s life, to one’s growth, perhaps even wisdom. Respect for gray-haired people may be a quaint idea
for many and should still be earned in all societies, but the idea still and always has merit—as we see in our world, and especially among younger people, who passionately grieve the loss of their grandparents as a loss of a bulwark of kindness, sympathy, love, protection, reason, and patience in the too-fast moving, anxiety-producing, weakly and tenuously connective world they’re growing up in.
Grandparents make their grandchildren feel they’re not alone, that they belong to something longer and more important than just themselves and their peers. The extension included in the idea of an extended family, of which grandparents are the primary source, brings a solidity and a permanence that nobody else can give. Let me put it this way: You grandparents come from far away, a time and location far removed from today, and yet you are still here. Because of the distance you’ve traveled—and to grandchildren it feels as though you’ve journeyed all this way to help them, comfort them, share their lives with them, share clothes, jewelry, ideas, birthdays, and so much more with them—because of the distance you’ve traveled your grandchildren feel they have longer roots and deeper human meaning. They have meaning that extends beyond what they themselves can produce and make. As we all know, making a meaningful life and being productive in a way we can fathom and feel good about isn’t easy. You give way more to your grandchildren/great grandchildren than you probably comprehend and what they can possibly understand at the time.
It is a good work. It is ministry. It is ministry that is founded on the ONLY idea that all ministries are founded on: the capability to tell others that they are not alone. This is the heart of Christ’s life and ministry—revealing to the needy, to the hard workers, to the learned that they weren’t alone. The kingdom was near, Jesus said. God was with him and therefore with them, he said. Healing was a touch away; food to be shared was within their grasp; forgiveness was theirs to receive. God hadn’t abandoned them. They weren’t alone.
We think of Christ healing, teaching, dying, and rising as separate events and experiences but they’re not. They’re all one piece. They have one united central purpose and passion—to show people for all time that they are not alone; they are not on their own.
Do you want to know what you’re doing when you’re doing whatever good work you’re involved in or thinking about getting involved in? It’s simple, really. You are proclaiming that we’re not alone. We don’t live
isolated. We mustn’t live afraid. We’re not on our own, estranged from one another. Help with giving others food—they’re not alone. Host a school in your church—they’re not alone. Have AA and NA groups meet in your church—they’re not on their own. Paint the church or fix the toilet or work on the garden or do administrative work or sing solos—we’re in this together. Light up the church lawn for Christmas—you have a spiritual home because you’re not alone. Work at Gumbo Limbo, volunteer at your child’s school, walk for cancer research, etc., etc.—you’ve got their back; they’re not on their own.
We are not separated; we are not disconnected; we are not alone and on our own. Beneath everything, the rock on which Christ’s life, death, and resurrection stands is God seeking to overcome all that drives us to alienate ourselves from one another. Christ refused to abide by the walls that had been erected between people. He rejected the idea, the constant pervasive theme of the world he lived in and of worlds all people live in, that you, and you, and you, you don’t belong together. Christ’s ministry, life, death, and resurrection are a resounding no to the powers that gain force and traction when isolation and division thrive.
During World War II, a church in Strasbourg was destroyed. Nothing remained except a heap of rubble and broken glass, or so the people thought till they began clearing away the masonry. Then they found a statue of Christ still standing erect. Despite all the bombing it was unharmed, except that both hands were missing. Eventually, rebuilding of the church began. One day a sculptor saw the figure of Christ and offered to carve new hands. The church officials met to consider the sculptor’s friendly gesture—and decided not to accept the offer. Why? Because the members of that church had come to find meaning in the sculpted Christ’s needing hands: “Our broken statue touches the spirits of men, but that he has no hands to minister to the needy or feed the hungry or enrich the poor—except our hands. He inspires. We perform.”
At the end of our Deacon meetings, we pray together the prayer Teresa of Avila shared: “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which Christ is to bless all people now.”
When Christ appeared among his disciples even though the doors were shut, we say he walked through walls, but that’s not true. Scripture says he appeared and stood among them, nothing about walls here at all. Walls were no issue for the risen Christ because those darn walls falling were the whole point of Christ’s ministry and life. His whole life had been about showing how they aren’t what you think they are, and they aren’t built by God.
Don’t believe you’re on your own. You’re not. Stop listening and following those who seek to build up more walls or walls again. Be reconciled to others. Bring folks together. Be united. Seek a connected life. Get de-isolated. Build a broader, more accessible world for all, to the risen Christ’s glory.
Can the church say Amen?