I brought my clay figure of two sets of hands- most of you have seen this before today. Whose hands are depicted is in the eye of the beholder. I see a couple of options- sometimes three or four. At home, I have this displayed in a case with several of my Camp Victory hearts draped on and around it. I think of healing, supporting hands in that context. The small hands are the children we serve and the larger hands are the hands of all the Mama Lions who volunteer there. I also see the hands of God supporting any one of us in ministry. I could go on but I want to talk about why hands were important to me today-why I wanted this visual aid.
Open hands-that is what today’s readings keep bringing to my mind. As The Reverend Martin Smith states, “In the resurrection we see the hands of God, hands that hold us in existence, pierced by unimaginable nails.” These hands are open hands so we can see the wounds and so we can feel comforted by the way they support us. Supporting hands-not clutching hands that would tell us we can’t be trusted.
Think back to a time when one of your parents let you do something on your own-they were supporting your ability to do things yourself. I suppose what I am talking about starts with the first time a parent lets go of a baby who is learning to walk-or maybe further back when the baby is first able to sit up or hold its big ol’ head up itself. But none of us would remember that from the baby’s point of view.
Or, that supporting hand when we are learning to ride a bicycle. The instant when the parent sees the child has the balance and momentum to propel the bike forward without that clutching hand on the back of the frame. The hand opens and lets go. Risky when one considers stopping on a bike is hard to learn, too.
Or, better still, the first time the teenager is allowed to drive a car alone. Do you remember how frightening and exhilarating that was-the first time you drove a car solo? There was something both bizarre about being out alone in a car and validating at the same time. Your parents trusted you to go it alone. You had the support of your parents’ auto insurance to back you up but you were out there driving on your own-remembering the rules of the road on your own. Deciding where to go and how fast to go on your own.
So Jesus enters a locked room to talk to the disciples-soon to be apostles. He shows them his open hands-the fresh wounds from the piercing nails. In The Message it says the disciples were exuberant to see Jesus with their own eyes. Jesus says, “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” There are open hands in that line. Jesus isn’t holding tightly to these followers-he is sending them off with his hands open. It’s ironic they had locked themselves in a room. “Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ he said. ‘If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?’” [The Message]
When Jesus breathes into them, they become part of him and part of his ministry. Just as we become part of him and part of his ministry when we receive the Holy Spirit. When Thomas gets on board eight days later, Jesus presents his hands again. Thomas believes what he is seeing. But, Jesus says, touch me. Is there also a message to the disciples and us that we should touch the wounded in our midst? Open hands again.
Jesus lets them drive all on their own. In Acts we see the outcome. The sort of world that God tried to set up with the early Hebrews-those Israelites who entered the promised land with a set of rules intended to keep those who were better able to earn a living/ from living off those who were not so able. Every seven years, land was returned to the original owner, debts were forgiven, and the land was allowed to rest. All of this was to provide opportunity for all the people to have what they needed to live.
And we see this in the Acts description of the early community of Christ followers. “The whole congregation of believers was united as one-one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, ‘That’s mine; you can’t have it.’ They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.
And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and…The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.” [The Message] Open hands indeed. Here is another message about opening our hands so we can give to others-quite literally.
Just like that first-time teen driver with the parents’ auto insurance, these apostles were not entirely alone. For one thing, apostle is plural in this story-they made decisions together and lived in community. We know this from other New Testament writings. They didn’t travel alone-they traveled in pairs. They had the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them. I know I wouldn’t want to be a Christian alone in the world-trying to do the ministry of Christ all on my own. But I know when I encounter people who are wounded that I can touch them and I can listen to them.
Because I know that not only am I resting in the supporting hands of God and have the indwelling Holy Spirit-I also have all of you backing me up. I live in community-we live in community. We support one another in the time and the money we give to this church. We are a community of open hands.