By Rev. Canon Renee
I bless your eyes that you may see God’s
image in everyone.
I bless your ears that you may hear the cry of the poor.
I bless your lips that you may speak nothing but the Gospel of Jesus.
I bless your hands that everything you receive and everything you give may be a sacrament.
I bless your feet that you may run to those who need you.
I bless your hands that everything you receive and everything you give may be a sacrament. Where have your hands been this week? Probably in all sorts of places– they’ve been working hands and tender hands, buying hands and nervous hands, receiving hands and giving hands. It’s a revealing reflection to ruminate on all the things your hands have done over the years. Our hands have been the instruments of great love and care and they have probably also been instruments of pain and distress. What the writer of the book of James says about the tongue, could apply as well to the hands. Regarding the tongue, James says, “Out of the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” From our hands, like our tongues, come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
Through our hands we have the ability to touch as Jesus touched. We have the ability to bring life and engender hope. We have the ability to ease burdens and share heavy loads. Miraculously, we have the ability, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta would say, to touch Jesus 24 hours a day with hands acting out of a heart filled with love. The hands are so important in the communication of goodness and holiness that the Psalmist, in answer to the question “who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord?” says, “The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” This same idea is echoed by St. Paul when he writes to Timothy and says, “I will, therefore, that people pray everywhere lifting up holy hands without anger or faithlessness.” Jesus’ graphic description in the Gospel of Matthew also reminds us, however, that our hands can wield destruction that is as terrifying in scope as the goodness that they can offer. Jesus suggests a radical solution. “Therefore, if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and cast it from you. For it is better to enter into life maimed than to have two hands and be cast into everlasting fire.” The reality of this injunction can be readily understood when we think of the horrific things hands have done in the lives of people throughout history–from stealing to abuse to torture to murder. There simply is no “life” when our hands have ceased to be instruments of goodness and holiness.
“Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken; let ears that now have heard thy songs to clamor never waken.”
Our hands are the “outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace in our souls.” In other words, they are the visual representation of what exists in the depths of our being. So when I say, “I bless your hands that everything you receive and everything you give may be a sacrament,” it means that these five fingers and palms that enable so much of the action in our lives are really open instruments of the sacramental life. Can you imagine what would happen if by means of our hands the sacramental life were communicated to others? The Hebrew word for hand is “yawd” and means “the open one.” Can you imagine what would happen if, through our five fingers and palms, others experienced the openness of our soul and the openness of God’s grace?
Let’s think about this for a moment. If you truly believed your hands to be mediators of the sacramental life–that is, life motivated and empowered by enfleshing holiness and goodness through outward means–what would it mean when you sign your checks? Or type on your computer? Or hold the telephone? Or do the dishes? Or help your child with homework? Or gather groceries into your grocery cart? Or wash your face–or your feet? Or someone else’s feet? Or pray? Or receive bread and wine? Or touch a sick person? Or a person with AIDS? Or a homeless person? Or wipe tears away? Or give a cup of water or coffee or tea or food? What would it mean? How might you see those everyday tasks if you truly believed that when you did them you were participating in outward and visible acts that portrayed the openness of your soul and the openness of God’s grace?
In the reading from Isaiah today there’s a lovely line that tells us something about what might happen and what might be required. The prophet Isaiah, in speaking of “the suffering servant,” says, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when his soul shall make an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
For Jesus, the way that the pleasure of the Lord prospered in his hand was when he had made his soul an offering for sin. When he had let go of any rights that he had, when he had let go of his judgments, when he had let go of his need to control others, when he had let go of trying to change others, when he had let go of everything–everything–and let his soul be so open as to take into it the sin of the whole world–then he died–oh yes, then he died–died to himself and died to the world. But he was raised, oh yes, he was raised–he saw his seed, his days were forever, and the pleasure of the Lord prospered in his hand.
Our hands are not our own–they are the means through which the pleasure of the Lord is prospered. “But, I am not Jesus,” you say. No, but you have the spirit of Jesus in you. It is no good to say that there is no reason to aspire to the holy life because you are not able because you are human. You have the spirit of God in you. You have the capacity to open your soul in order to cover the sins of others. You have the capacity to let go of your judgments of others who do not fit into your pattern of acceptability. You have the capacity to let go of your need to control others. You have the capacity to let go of trying to change others. You have the capacity to heal others through your hands given in love. You have the capacity to wipe the tears away from one who is filled with sorrow. You have the capacity to touch the untouchables so they know they are loved. You have the capacity to let go of everything that fills your soul with yourself, in order that you may let it be an open place for the pain and sin of others. And you have the capacity to die. Oh yes, to die–to yourself–and to the world. And when you have truly died, you will be truly raised–oh yes, truly raised. You will know the power of life as you have never known it before. You will see the wondrous miracle of letting the Lord’s pleasure prosper in your hands.
“But, it seems so hard,” you might be thinking. “How can I do all of that? It’s just so hard.” Stop your head from thinking and let your hands begin acting. If you spend too much time thinking, there will always be a nagging voice inside telling you that it is too hard. But, it’s not hard if, with your hands, you simply begin. If you simply begin. And if you begin with something simple. Take, for example, the simple way in which one of the early desert fathers Abba Poemen dealt with the issue of judging others. Some monks came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, “It’s not right for brothers to doze during the services in church. When we see them dozing, should we not rouse them so that they can be watchful?” they asked. Abba Poemen said to them, “For my part, when I see a brother dozing, with my hands, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.” That is a simple act of beginning. In one simple act with his hands, Abba Poemen let go of his need to be right in thinking that a brother shouldn’t doze in church. He let go of his judgment that the dozing brother was a slackard. He let go of his need to control the actions of the dozing brother. He let go of his need to change the behavior of the dozing brother. He let go of everything that filled his soul with his own “self”–in order that he might, through his hands, care for the dozing brother who was, obviously, TIRED. One act with the hands silences many excuses of the head.
I bless your hands that everything you
receive and everything you give may be a sacrament. I bless your
hands that everything you receive and everything you give may communicate
outwardly the inward grace of God. I bless your hands that everything
you receive and everything you give may prosper the pleasure of the Lord.
I bless your hands that everything you receive and everything you give
may be the simple and holy touch of God, God’s self.
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