The following is the first sermon in my Lenten series concerning The Body of Christ.
1st Sunday in Lent
The Hands of Christ
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This morning we begin our Lenten series concerning the Body of Christ, his humanity, his life among God’s people, his suffering and death for our sake. Today our focus is on the Hands of Christ.
First of all, consider the hand. Its purpose is to grasp and to hold things. Its design suits its function very well. When the hand is first employed it reaches out with an intended purpose. The hand’s fingers grasp an object and hold it firmly, supporting as much weight as they can bear. When the weight becomes too great, one hand may reach out in assistance to another. Given the right set of circumstances, a hand can provide great strength and security. It can provide a means to do work, or as in many circumstances, a hand can apply a gentle loving touch, a simple caress. Hands can even speak. No, they cannot talk, but they can communicate. Hands can say “I love you.”
What comes to your mind when you think of hands? Something very emotional, perhaps. The first thing our own tiny hands grasped as infants was probably a finger of our father or mother. Our parents’ hands caressed us, changed us, fed us, held us, played with us. Some might think first of a father’s strong, calloused hands taking your own hand in order to show you how to do something, to teach you, guide you, to protect, or to touch and reassure. Others might think first of a mother’s gentle hands stroking your forehead as you lay sick; hands that playfully tousled you hair, cooked and served your favorite meal, hands that washed and bandaged cuts and scrapes. In both cases, we recall hands that loved.
Today, we consider Jesus’ hands. Jesus’ hands combine that strength, gentleness, love and more. Jesus’ hands were the strong hands of a carpenter, and yet the gentle loving hands of a healer. Much has been written about the hands of Christ. We often read about the wonders that took place by his hands; wonderful and mighty works done by his hands, yet with such a gentle touch.
Early in his ministry when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying sick with a fever; Jesus touched her hand, and the fever left her. The hands of Jesus were hands filled with love, hands that welcomed and touched everyone. The hands of Christ touched lepers with love, risking infection from that hideous disease. They were hands that could be trusted, trusted by the sick, trusted by the lame. The hands of Jesus could cause the crippled to walk. The hands of Jesus could cause the deaf to hear, and the hands of Jesus could restore sight to the blind. They were hands that could even be trusted to bring life back to a child who had died.
These hands of love were hands that could also forgive. In our Gospel lesson a woman was caught “red-handed” in the very act of adultery. When she stood accused and brought to Jesus, the beautiful hands of Christ bent to write in the dust. What do you suppose he wrote? Did he write the names of all those in the crowd and the sins they themselves had committed? Did he write the Ten Commandments? Truth be told, no one knows what it is that Jesus wrote in the dirt with his hands. But all those eager to kill the woman by stoning her, suddenly and quietly walked away. No one condemned her. Christ Jesus, with the hands of love had compassion on the woman and said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again.” The woman’s hands loosened from the bonds of sin so that she might go and serve God with hands of love.
Forgiveness at the hands of Christ.
And what of our hands? In your hands this morning you have a nail. Earlier I asked you to consider the hand. Now consider the nail. The nail’s purpose is to hold things as well, hold them together. As with the hand, its design suits its function very well. When a nail is first employed its tip violently and efficiently pierces the surface of one material meant to be fastened to another. Driven deeper and deeper, the nail finally penetrates the one, and then begins sinking deep into the other. Given enough length, the nail will finally penetrate the second object where its shaft may be bent over so that the two in essence become one providing great strength and security. Because of the nail, two objects are joined, affixed. Only until one is ripped from the other, or the nail straightened and driven back can the two be separated. Properly applied, nails employed by human hands do good work.
The work we do with our hands in the name of Christ is the work of love. Following the example of Christ Jesus, we strive to love our neighbor, serve those who are in need, feed those who are hungry, love those who long to be loved. Yet all too often, we humans fall short and our hands become instruments of something quite different. Because of sin, our hands become instruments for consumption rather than service, greed rather than generosity, and hate rather than love. Because of sin, our age old rebellion, our human hands become something quite different; they become as like nails.
Take a moment and consider the nail, held in your hand.
Finally, consider the cross, where nails and hands meet. Neither functions toward its desired purpose. The nail rips through the flesh of the hand, penetrating through to the rough wooden beam. The hand is wounded, broken, bleeding. It is unable to grasp, unable to hold. The nail is misused in a most despicable way, tearing down rather than building up. It restrains the hand, destroys its ability to do work, to apply a gentle loving touch. The nail denies the hand its desire to touch; keeps it from applying a gentle caress. Yet, even as the nail is misused, given the right set of circumstances, the hand still speaks. Though wounded and bleeding, pierced and dying, the hands of Christ reach out and say “I love you.”
To ensure the same forgiveness granted the woman caught in adultery would be available to us also, the hands of Christ, his strong, skilled, healing, loving, forgiving hands were nailed to a cross. In order that we may be forgiven and gain the assurance of everlasting life in God’s kingdom, the hands of Christ bore the weight of the world’s sin. Christ died that we might live. Christ died in order to save us. Christ died at the hands of humans; yet he was raised by the hand of God. Consider the hands of Christ; the hands that forgive, the hands that conquer death, the hands that give life.
As we stretch out our empty needy hands this morning, God fills them by his loving hand. Why?
So that we might live. So that we might live; so that we might love, so that we might be as the hands of Christ for others.
No doubt you’ve seen pictures from Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. It will take more than the hands of humans to repair the damage. It will take the hands of God.
Consider the hand. Its purpose is to grasp and to hold things. Its design suits its function very well. When the hand is first employed it reaches out with an intended purpose. As we extend our hands toward others, let us do so as Christ did for us; with complete and unselfish love.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.