Rev. Dr. Scott Herr
Please Read: John 17:1-11, I Peter 5:6-11
This past weekend a number of us had the privilege of worshiping in the Berlin Lutherkirche, the building where our sister American Church in Berlin congregation meets. The building was hit but not seriously damaged by bombing during World War II. One of the more moving aspects of the current architecture is a statue of Jesus that adorns one of the outside walls of the church. The significant part of this statue is that the hands of Jesus are missing. I suppose they got blown off in the bombing, but no one put them back on or repaired the statue. So there is this rather poignant presence of Jesus with arms outstretched but with no hands…
Jesus had hands, of course, and during his public ministry, used them for powerful service… Healing, rebuking, challenging, blessing, turning over tables, pouring out wine, washing feet. It was with his hands that the resurrected Lord broke bread, and the eyes of the disciples were opened. It was with his hands that the Risen Lord gestured the sign of the peace… the ancient blessing was done always with open hands. Jesus’ hands were key to his healing and redemptive work on our behalf…
In first Peter in the midst of warnings about the end, and various commands on how to live in the midst of stressful times, we are told to “humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God…” What does it mean to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God? The hand of God of course is a powerful image throughout the scriptures… It’s also a powerful image made famous by Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel image of God’s hand reaching to Adam... We talk about how we do not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future!
The first obvious fact is that God’s hand is not our hands. Our hands were on the table that night when Jesus was betrayed. Our hands are often involved when we deny our Lord even today. It may be as we hide our eyes or cover our ears to the plight of the poor. We may lift a hand our anger. Perhaps we sign away our birthright on frivolous living? It may be as we click away on the internet? … It’s interesting to me that the word “tradition” comes from the Latin root tradere which means to “hand over.” There is a certain sobering ambiguity to this word. One meaning is of course, is that we hand over that which is most important from one generation to the next. Another meaning, however, is the darker sense of betrayal. This is part of the gospel story, too. Jesus was handed over by even his friends. Our hands betrayed the Lord. But he forgave. In his hands, he bore the nails of forgiveness…
And so we rightly seek the comfort and the shelter of the Mighty Hand of God… We seek the security and the peace of the one whose hands were outstretched for the love of the whole world, who gave himself completely for the redemption of the world, even his enemies.
The Ascension was this past Thursday. It is one of those moveable feasts which is tied to the Lunar calendar, the 40th day of Easter. It is written that on that day Jesus took his disciples to the Mount of Olives and bid them farewell… Although I guess most Parisians did not attend worship services Thursday, it was a welcome holiday in the midst of our busy lives. Hands stopped working but for a moment anyway. Ascension Day is a holiday almost completely overlooked by Protestants, but in fact is perhaps as important as any other event in the life of Jesus. But why is the Ascension so important? As weird as it is in the language of Luke where Jesus seems to make like an action figure and head off into the clouds, something significant happened… Who knows? The point is Jesus returned to be with his heavenly Father. We say in the creed: “He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty…”
What we’re saying, and what the ascension means, is that this one who healed and blessed, who bled with his hands for our sake, is now the ultimate authority of the universe (the right hand of God signifies the hand of strength. Jesus is the Mighty Hand of God. It will be his hand of judgment and his hand of mercy that we experience ultimately. In his Mighty Hand we find comfort and strength… This is where the doctrine of the sovereignty of God a sense of peace. God revealed his true nature in this one called Jesus of Nazareth, friend of sinners, outcasts and forgotten ones. This Jesus, who emptied himself to show compassion, forgiveness and love to the least of these, is in charge. Quick summary of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God: In the end, it’ll be OK. Not because of anything we are able to craft, construct or contrive, but because of the kind of mighty hand God has revealed in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
We come with empty hands to this table today. Life seems to slip through our hands. Well, in fact, it does. We experience sickness, accidents, divorces and divisions, violence and losses and hardship that reminds us of how fragile is the life that we try so hard to grasp and hold onto so tightly… But here, we are called to humble ourselves. In the end, I believe humbling ourselves means to “let go” of trying to control everything. It’s about release. Emptying our hands can be a symbol of the discipline of humility.
And so we come with open and empty hands, hands that in one sense are the shape of a common beggar. For we are nothing more and nothing less than empty-handed at the foot of the cross of him who holds eternity in his hands…
Today we will use our hands to clap for those who are rejoicing. We will shake hands to bid farewell to those who are leaving. We will shake hands. We will hold hands. We will attempt to bless by laying on our hands…and we will do the best that we can with the hands God has given us. Indeed, as Teresa of Avila once remarked, “Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world…Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
And so while our hands are not the mighty hand of God, they may become the mighty hand of God in this world. Have you been over to the Rodin museum? Have you seen his beautiful sculpture called La Cathédrale? It’s two hands lightly touching one another. But they are not one person’s hands. We are called to join hands and by God’s Spirit we become the cathedral of God… Together we can resist the roaring lion and all our adversaries. Together we can endure suffering. We hold on to one another, and realize we are held by the Mighty Hand of God… As we serve, as we make music, as we forgive, as we bless, as we lift up, as we welcome and extend the right hand of fellowship to those least like us God is most glorified in us.
Empty-handed though we may be, we come to this table and are filled. Our Lord is the host here. He serves us… Here with our small, tired, clumsy, wrinkled, arthritic, dirty and misshapen hands, we receive a bit of bread and a sip of juice and we are strengthened because we receive from the mighty hand of God… the God of all grace, who speaks a word of peace and comfort to us. Receive and be strengthened, as we give glory to God as a cathedral of God’s compassion and love for all. To this God be the power forever and ever.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.