Subscribe: Posts | Comments

The Very Rev Laurence G. Byrne, All Saints Episcopal Church, Bayside, New York

One of my brothers looked at my hands one day recently and said, “Wow. You really have Dad’s hands.” I looked down at the appendages beginning to show some signs of arthritis and realized he was right. My hands do look a lot like my father’s. That’s fine with me. My dad, though a schoolteacher, never shied away from manual labor whether building furniture, tending his garden, or writing lesson plans by hand. Whether freshly cleaned or stained with ink, or tobacco, or compost, they were strong and distinctive. 

The Very Rev Laurence G. Byrne

I suspect it was that conversation that got me thinking about hands a lot during Passiontide. As I did, I kept returning in heart and mind to the fourth verse of one of the great hymns of the Church, Walter Russell Bowie’s “Lord Christ When First Thou Cam’st To Men.” The verse begins, “O wounded hands of Jesus, build in us thy new creation. Our pride is dust, our vaunt is stilled, we wait thy revelation.” 

On Golgotha, nailed to a cross was a unique pair of hands. They were the strong, skilled hands of a carpenter that healed widows and children with a touch. They were the hands of a Rabbi that broke bread for his followers. They were the hands of the King of Kings that did not shy away from washing feet. Indeed, it was the hands of the Messiah; hands no longer physically perfect yet glorified that began to break in the Kingdom of God. 

Of course, the ministry of altar guilds is very much hands on. Hands that have a little tarnish or silver polish on them or that perhaps are sore from ironing a fair linen or are covered with cotton gloves to handle the metalware are all hands that are helping the wounded hands of Jesus to break in the Kingdom. Making the church beautiful and inviting is hands-on evangelism! We might be justifiably proud of the work we have done, but with the right attitude our pride is transformed, perhaps not to dust but to offering. That transformation is key. 

As a priest (though I do my share of polishing and table setting, etc.!), I have the privilege of using my hands to baptize, to anoint, to bless, and to place the Sacrament into the hands of God’s people. 

I once knew an oysterman in the Chesapeake Bay region who had hands as hard as the shells of the oysters he gathered each day. I knew a man with hands the size of a catcher’s mitt. I know a lady whose hands are so delicate they are almost translucent. I know a mechanic who may never get the last of the embedded grease off. I know a little girl whose palms are almost completely covered by the wafer I place in them. Hers are the ones that make me understand more about what it is to receive the Eucharist. Jesus wants our hearts to be as full as little Emily’s hands when we receive him. Old and craggy, enormous, delicate or just ordinary, our hands are meant to be full with the gift of the love of God. 

Look at your hands. Do you see any resemblance to an ancestor? Are they a little battered or fresh from the salon? Look closer. I guarantee they do look a bit like someone else’s. Even without the Stigmata, they look like the hands of Jesus. 

You are called to the work of building up the Body of Christ with heart, mind, and hands. As you do so, you also help heal the wounded hands of Jesus with the balm of love. 

May the work of your hands whether in Sacristy, Sanctuary, or society be blessed.

Comments are closed.