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The Sixth Word: Into Your Hands

Date:4/7/19

Series: The Seven Last Words: Lent 2019

Passage: Luke 23:44-49

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Michael L. Gregg

Into your hands. A young child holds a tight grip to his mother’s hand while walking to school. Into your hands. A wife rests her head in the hands of her husband as she hears the news that she has cancer. Into your hands. A young couple cries tears of joy as they hold and safeguard their newborn baby in their hands. Into your hands. An elderly woman’s hands tremble as she strokes the hair of her dying spouse. Into your hands. An artist uses the skill in his hands to paint a portrait as if from the beautiful mind of the divine. Into your hands. Jesus was broken, beaten, bruised, betrayed and so, he envisioned his spirit falling into the encompassing, creating, loving, tender hands of God.

What is so special or so important about hands? Hands carry germs, they pick noses, they get those blasted annoying hang nails that seem to never go away, they strangle, they punch, they perpetrate murder. Why would Jesus commit his spirit into the hands of God? Why was it important for Jesus to commit his Spirit, to “give up the ghost,” to die and end up in his Father’s hands? Jesus could have easily cried out in a loud voice to God, “Father, I commit my spirit to you,” or “Father, into you I commit my spirit,” or “Father, into your divine, omnipotent, ethereal, everlasting, supernatural existence, I commit my spirit.” Yeah, maybe. But it just doesn’t have a good ring to it. If I was like Jesus and in the throes of death, carrying the weight of the world upon my bloody and broken shoulders, the last thing I would want to do is commit myself to the unknowable, uncaring, formless reality of God. Hands are personal. Hands bring us into relationship with someone. Hands help to feed us. Hands provide loving discipline. Hands help us touch, caress, and unite with someone else. Hands are connection.

When I think of hands, I think of my grandmother’s hands. For some reason most of my relationship with my grandmother revolved around her hands. When I was a very young boy I was so infatuated with my grandmother’s hands. I would sit next to her in church and just caress her hands for the hour I was there. I wasn’t yet to the point where I could listen to the whole sermon on Sundays without being distracted (in fact, I’m still not sure I’m there yet). But I remember passing the time by playing tapping games with my grandmother’s hand. She would tap a simple rhythm on my hand like “pop goes the weasel” and then I would copy it on her hand. She would then tap another rhythm like “Jingle Bells” and I would copy it back. Eventually the rhythm would get so difficult and so quick and convoluted that I would tap something totally absurd and squeeze her hand really tight signaling that the game was over.

Of course, she would always win this game because she was a great musician. She could play the piano like an expert. Her hands were so skilled at playing the piano that sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference in her porcelain skin and the ivory of the keys. I remember when I was little, her taking my hands in her own hands, helping me to press the correct notes on the piano keyboard. My little fingers would never have been able to make breathtaking music without her masterful hands resting gently on top of mine, almost like they weren’t there, yet guiding the music out of my fingertips. 

I loved my grandmother’s hands. But her hands weren’t just meant for playing games and making music. As a baby, all I would eat was Cheerios. One afternoon when my grandmother was baby-sitting me, I was in my high chair with a whole box of Cheerios on my tray. At some point I accidentally knocked that box of Cheerios on to the floor, making a huge toasted oats mess. My grandmother was right there to clean up the cereal, to bend over and pick up every little cheerio off of the floor and put the box back on my tray. Well, I thought this was a fun game we were playing and so I proceeded to knock the Cheerios on the floor several more times with my grandmother dutifully picking up every crunchy ‘o.’ If you are a grandmother in the room, you know about how long that lasted. By the time I got to the fourth session of pick up ‘o’s, my grandmother’s hand wasn’t a playful cereal scooper anymore. It became a flying paddle of correction on my diaper-padded bottom. I’m sure it was shocking for me to see how fast her hands changed from amusement to discipline.

So why hands? What is it about hands that are vital in this sixth word from Jesus? Well, hands are definitely important because God’s hands are mentioned over and over again in the Bible. I think of Psalm19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands.” In Psalm 104 the Psalmist says to the Lord, “...all look to you to give them food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up, when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things...” The works of God’s hands paint the wonderful masterpiece of creation. God’s hands provide good food that satisfies. Hands, especially the hands of God are mentioned many, many more times. In 2 Chronicles it says, “Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind.” Job exclaimed, “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me.” And Ecclesiastes, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.”

So, we observe a mixture of God, providing unity of mind, meticulously designing creation, and gathering sustenance for God’s people. Yet, Job’s story reminds us, as well, that sometimes it feels like God’s hand is heavy upon us. That God’s hand slaps us across the face, punches us in the gut, and pokes us in the eye. God’s hand of openness, connectedness, and life can sometimes feel like destruction, suffocation, and death. It did for Jesus. On the cross, God, the Fatherly parent, laid a heavy hand on Jesus. God’s hands hurled loneliness, pain, and the weight of a sinful world! If it were me, God’s hands would not have been welcome.

But I’m not Jesus. Jesus responded differently. And so, how did Jesus respond to God in this time? Did he complain to his God? Was he bitter about his God? Did he rebuke his God? Was he mad and vengeful? No, Jesus trusted God. Jesus was about to die, and what did he say? He said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Father, Abba, Daddy, my loving parent… into your hands, the hands that created the universe and wraps all things in compassion… to you, I commit, I let myself fall into your embrace… to you I give my Spirit!” He gave himself up willingly, into the hands of God, even though the hands that brought life to the world now brought death to a Son. 

I don’t know about you, but that’s unsettling. Shouldn’t Jesus have railed against God? Shouldn’t he have said, “What did I do to deserve this?” Maybe. Yet, Jesus found comfort in God’s hands nonetheless. Jesus fell into God’s hands as if he were being born again, birthed from the human shell that he took on thirty-three years earlier. He fell into the arms of a waiting and present God. In creation, the hands of God cupped the universe, separated the heavens, and formed humans from dust. And now, in the final moments of Jesus’ life, they became a portal, a cradle into the love of God.

I know for many of us it seems like this day, this month, this year is not going well and is only getting worse. It might feel like the heavy hand of God is weighty upon our spirits, feeling like punishment, abandonment, anger, and scorn. But in the midst of those feelings, in the midst of the weight of God in our own brokenness, we must not lose hope. We must not doubt that there is comfort and care in our God’s good, gentle, powerful, and present hands! Jesus is our guide and our model as we learn to commit our own spirits, our own fears, our own regrets; as we commit our entire selves in to God’s hands, where the scars of Jesus continue to give us strength, mercy, and rest… where the hands of Jesus that supported his suspended body remind us, as in Philippians, that:

“Jesus Christ, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

We’ve seen in these seven last words of Christ from the cross that Jesus became human, became human to experience humanity with physical hands – to grab his mothers finger as a baby, to point to the scroll from which he taught about equality and justice, to touch a man’s eyes so the man could see again, to use his finger to draw in the dirt and teach an angry people to have mercy on an adulteress, to lift his hands and say “Peace, Be Still,” to feel the sting of the betrayal as he dipped his hand in the bowl with Judas at the Last Supper, to feel the pounding of the thick, rusty nails, the ripping of the flesh, the breaking of the bones, as his hands became the last thing holding his spirit in this world.

Yes, hands were the threshold for Jesus between his humanity and the Divine. As he died, as he gave up his flesh and his human experience with physical hands, he let himself be caught, covered, held, embraced by his Heavenly Father. And as Jesus let his spirit rest in God, “Into Your Hands”, let us do so this week, as well. Let us give our lives over into the hands of our loving Creator. Let us give ourselves into the hands of God. Because as we recognize today Jesus’ sixth word from the cross, we remember the sacrifice of Christ and the mystery of his crucifixion. We remember that Jesus reached out to us with his nail-scarred hands to wipe our tears, to caress our cheeks, and embrace us in our pain. The hands of Jesus saved you and saved the world.

And because the hands of Jesus saved the world, we too must be the hands of Jesus that reach out in love to our community. How will you reveal the loving hands of God to the city this week? Will you shake the hand of someone different than you, maybe even an enemy? Will you make sandwiches for the hungry? Will your write a letter to a representative? Will you plant a garden? Will you hold a book? Will you a hug a friend who is in pain? How will you be the hands of the Divine in our world this week? Into your hands, O God. Into your hands.

Amen.