Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ hands looked like? I don’t think I had until last week. I was sat in Leeds Station waiting for a train and found myself thinking about this sermon, looking at peoples’ hands.
So as I looked around, I saw children’s hands, holding onto their parent. Hands grasping baggage; holiday or business. Lovers holding hands and there was even a gentleman with a prosthetic hand. And I had been thinking about hands for three reasons.
Firstly the post communion prayer from last week that had been in my mind since we prayed it last week ‘strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that have taken holy things’.
Secondly because of that demand at the end of the Gospel, when those who have followed Jesus, heard his teaching on the bread of heaven and say to him ‘Give us this bread always.’ The bread Jesus talked about was himself and we when we come here we open our hands to receive him.
And lastly because of that connection between strengthening our hands for service, receiving Christ and the theme of that first reading from St. Paul where he writes of growing up and of ministry used in the service of Christ to build up his body.
Put together, they seem to be telling me that we are invited to see our hands as holy.
If you were able look at all the different hands around the church this morning, it won’t take you long to notice that our hands often say something about us, perhaps emphasise what we do for a living.
I used to work as a storesman for a firm of agricultural engineers and there parts for tractors would be placed into the oily hands of the mechanic or the oft dirty hands of the farmer.
Likewise some of you will have soft hands and perhaps like take good care of them, moisturising when necessary. My doctor has informed me to do so being susceptible to eczema as I am, so moisturiser abounds at the Vicarage, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
But aside from the clues through wear and tear, our hands will also come in all shapes and sizes, some hands will be fat, some thin, some elegant, some like shovels. Perhaps as you look down now some hands will look alien to your eye as they seem old, wrinkly and with spots. There will even be some amongst us who seldom give their hands any attention except that is when we cut them with a knife and we reach for the plasters.
And so what of Jesus’ hands? He was the carpenters’ son and so I don’t expect there was much moisturiser for men in first century Palestine. I think we can assume that his hands were working hands, hard, perhaps with calluses from the plane and the lathe.
And yet his hands touched the sick, offered a hand of encouragement. His hands changed lives.
In a little while we shall open our hands to receive him who has changed our life. Those hands will be opened in all kinds of ways, tentatively and with fear, with confidence and with expectation, with head bowed down, maybe even with tears in the eye. And having received Christ, we are fed, sustained and changed.
Hence that post communion prayer lingering in my mind, ‘Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that have taken holy things.’ The hands that we bring. The hands that have received Christ are then offered back to him, in our own little way, with thankful hearts, in love and service, you’ll likely know those words of St Teresa of Avila.
‘Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
No hands but yours. Your hands are then holy, they can be a means of blessing and grace, the friendly handshake, the consoling hand on a shoulder or they can be as we know too well from our world a tool for evil.
Whatever we use them for our hands, as the rest of our body, are miracles. Take a moment or two today and perhaps this week as you go about your daily life to give thanks for them, mindful of all that we have achieved and received through them.
For love shared, for words written, for work done, for notes on a stave played, for stitches sown, for the child received into them, for the hand held and especially for the gift of Christ himself received week by week.
And as you think and pray, maybe gently exploring them remembering the stories that accompany the scars offer them afresh back to Christ for he has no hands in this world but ours.
Strengthen for service O Lord, the hands that have taken holy things.