It’s entirely possible I think about hands more than most. As pastor in a congregation that celebrates Holy Communion every week — and with two services every Sunday — I see a lot of hands reaching toward me for that morsel of bread.
Some hands are eager, anxious for the gift to come. Some are shy, held back under a head bowed with the promise of grace. Sometimes they tremble from illness or anticipation. Sometimes they drip with tears at the forgiveness offered “for you,” as their owner’s shoulders in turn are held by the hands of others. Some hands are curious, some are bold, some are uncertain, some are nonchalant.
Some hands have a child’s bright eyes perched on top, glowing with the knowledge that they belong, too. That what we do together includes them. That this holy moment is for them. These eyes gleam with the joy of being part of this great thing unfolding. Sometimes these child’s hands are folded neatly on the rail, feet standing on the kneeling cushion, the railing just the right height for them to rest their elbows on it (well-designed just for them), surrounded by us who love them passionately and are there with and for them.
Some hands are tiny, chubby, a toddler’s unlined curiosity reaching out because she has watched mom or grandpa or sister reach, and so of course that’s what they do, too. These hands bend at the wrist in ways mine just don’t anymore — back almost 90 degrees, the flexibility of new life — as they pop that morsel in their mouth as though this is old hat, this is familiar pattern in a new-born life. Sometimes, oh blessed holy moments, some exquisite times that eating is accompanied by a chomping sound: “Nom!” Holy sounds for a holy moment.
Some hands are lined and wrinkled with history and story, paper-thin skin stretched over years of blessing others. These hands have knuckles gnarled from serving, fingers bent with use, hands that have held Jesus’ throughout a life well-lived. These hands, too, can tremble at the familiar power of forgiveness and reconciliation, the spiritual nourishment to make it through another day of aches and challenge.
Some hands are manicured, well-turned and attended. These hands hide their diaper changes, thrice-nightly cries from the crib, crayon scrubbed from the wall. These hands chase snot-bubbles and button winter coats on squirmy, impatient bodies. These hands droop with exhaustion at the end of the day, so worn from darting to protect and provide they can hardly hold a book in the tiny moment of quiet. The manicure, the polish, the poise, they want us to know that everything is under control, life is all together — though we who love them, and we who surround them, know it is not and admire them for the tiredness more than the polish.
Some hands are so well-used the dirt in the corners will never be routed, the grease so worn it will never be removed. These are workers’ hands, farmer’s hands, mechanics’ hands — hands that know the heft of tools and the satisfaction of hard work. These are hands that hold the world together with callouses and scars, and sometimes — my heart breaks just a little — sometimes their owners are just a little shy with them, just a little hesitant as though they are somehow not “presentable,” not scrubbed-up and “right” for this holy moment.
And every time, I want to grab them and make their owners look me in the eye and remind them, “These are hands Jesus would like particularly well.” These hands look like his, their callouses thick enough to be their own geography, well-earned scars so profuse we’ve lost their history. These hands look like the rough, scratchy hands of a hand-tooled carpenter.
After all, our hope rests in rough-hewn hands. Our hope is the strong hands that grip ours, holding tight when the storms rise and the wind rages, drawing us into an abundant life only they offer. These hands have callouses that scratch across our shoulders as they hold us tight, embrace us as siblings, welcome us as prodigals, brush our tears of joy and tragedy and tousle our hair with delight.
These are hands that rubbed against a cross, splinters snicking into their backs as the soldiers wielded their dreadful hammers, breaking and stabbing strong sinews. These are hands that dripped and trembled as he was lifted and all his weight hung from the spikes driven through them. These are hands that slumped as all was finished. These are hands tenderly bathed and wrapped by the women who laid him in silent rest. And these are hands, holed and somehow whole, whose fingers gripped the edges of the cave three days later as he drew breath in the morning sun.
These hands sparked suns’ fierce fire, stirred nebulae and scattered galaxies. These hands molded dry ground and rescued a people. These hands waved the heavens into being and reached, on a silent night many years ago, to grip Joseph’s calloused pinkie, to bat Mary’s face. These are our hands, these hands our hope, these rough and tender hands that reach for ours as we reach for his.
So hold your hands boldly, sisters. Reach your hands tenderly, brothers. Reach your hands joyfully, children, for Jesus’ hands reach for yours. In familiar words hear this promise: “This is the body of Christ, reaching — for you.“