Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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“HANDS CAN TELL US A LOT”

Text:  John 20:24-29
Isaiah 53:3-6, 11-12

 

I loved the opening scene of the film Forrest Gump. The “Life is like a box of chocolates” philosophy articulated by Forrest is a classic. But also tucked into that initial setting at a bus stop are Forrest’s reflections about shoes. After noticing the nurses’ shoes worn by the woman sitting next to him on the bench, he comments: “Momma always says there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going. Where they’ve been.” Might I suggest that it’s the same with hands as well. You can tell a lot about a person by their hands – where they’ve been, what they’ve done, and to some extent, where they’re going. 

             I personally remember my grandfather Lawrence’s hands. Although my memories of him are sketchy as he passed away when I was just seven, my memories of his hands are vivid. They seemed huge to me, especially when he’d hold my hand in his to cross the street. But what I recall most was how hard and tough they were, calloused by a lifetime of labor -in the railroad yards where he was part of a crew which laid the tracks; in the mill where he shoveled raw materials into the coke ovens; in his own huge backyard garden where he raised tomatoes, corn, squash, peppers, and lettuce. In reflection, Lawrence’s hands said a lot about where he’d been and what he’d done.

             This past Maundy Thursday, our service included a hand washing element where I poured water over the hands of attendees prior to their receiving communion. I was struck by the many different hands which passed under the water: the soft and creamy smooth hands of children who are early in their experience, not yet toughened and calloused by the labors and struggles of life; the enormous hands of a couple of guys in the choir whose hand size matches their physical stature; the hands of those whose skin is becoming increasingly thin and transparent with the passage of many years; the hands made crooked and stiff by many painful years of arthritis or rheumatism.

            This morning’s gospel lesson is a lesson centering around hands – the hands of the resurrected Jesus, the hands of the apostle Thomas. As the story goes, it was evening of the first Easter. The disciples were huddled behind locked doors when, as John records, “Jesus came and stood among them…” This was John’s way of saying that Jesus was suddenly there, having seemingly come out of thin air. After greeting them, the first thing Jesus did was show His nail-scarred hands and His pierced side. At this sign, the disciples recognized Jesus and rejoiced. But as we read in today’s passage, Thomas was not with them at the time. Where he was, we’re not told. But when he did finally catch up with his compatriots, they joyfully shared with him about Jesus’ visit. Yet in good Thomas style – which could stylistically be any of us -he doubted their testimony. Yeah, right. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  

            Jesus has an amazing way of making us doubters believe. A week later, the disciples were again gathered in that same room. But this time, Thomas was there. As it was a week earlier, “the doors were shut,” and as happened a week earlier, Jesus suddenly appeared among them. After greeting them, Jesus turns immediately to Thomas. We almost get a sense that Jesus is there just for Thomas’s benefit, somehow knowing about his protest the week before. He offers to provide just what Thomas was seeking: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Here’s a thing to notice. Thomas, as far as we can tell, needed only see, not even touch, convicted when he was given visual evidence. So convicted was he that he cried out [perhaps even having dropped to his knees]: “My Lord and my God!”

            This is a passage about hands, and what hands can tell us about where a person has been, and what they’ve done. Hands can sometimes be the best point of recognition of who a person really is on the basis of what they’ve been through, sort of like Forrest Gump’s observation about shoes. Such was the case with Thomas and Jesus. I wonder if Thomas up to this point had really acknowledged, let alone even remotely understood, Jesus’ identity as the persecuted Messiah; Jesus’ role as the suffering servant spoken of by Isaiah in his prophecy foretelling Jesus’ coming. Many disciplesbelieved that after Jesus’ crucifixion, He would indeed rise, but as a political and military giant whowould then and there conquer all Israel’s enemies and reestablish Israel’s nationhood. Maybe Thomas shared this belief. When Jesus appeared to Thomas, could part of His purposebeen to correct Thomas’s and others’ misperceptions? When Thomas asked to see, and Jesus proceeded to show, the marks of persecution and suffering, may it have been in order for Thomas to finally concede that Jesus was not the warring, conquering Messiah-King, but rather the self sacrificing, long suffering servant to the people He was put on earth to save? The Kingdom Jesus would establish would be through the suffering and self-sacrificing service of those called to carry out His ministry – a Kingdom initiated, but yet to be fully instituted. When Thomas proclaimed “My Lord and my God!,” he finally understood what that meant. And it was only in seeing in the hands of Jesus where He had been, what He had done, and yes, where He was going. That was Thomas’s point of recognition. And I’m sure it changed Thomas’s outlook and ministry forever.

            The table of our Lord upon which lie the signs of suffering and self-sacrifice -revealing the scarred hands and pierced side of Christ – call us to the same recognition. There will indeed be a day [called by John the Revelator and others “the Day of the Lord”] when Jesus will return to fully establish His eternal Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” Until that day, however, we who are disciples will follow in the ways of suffering and self-sacrifice for the cause of Christ, for the sake of Christ’s grace and love. As we receive Holy Communion this morning, and reflect on all which it means, all which it reveals about the essential nature and character of Jesus, may we have our outlooks and ministries changed forever. We learn, as did Thomas, that hands can tell us a lot

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102