Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Hands: An Off Peak Easter Refelction
It's become a bit of a tradition here in New Zealand to have mid-winter Christmas dinners. Living in the southern hemisphere our Christmas comes in the middle of summer and is celebrated with cold meat and salad, BBQ's in the back yard, and slipping off for summer holidays at the beach somewhere. Having said that some still want to enjoy the trappings of a more northern hemisphere fare, so they do all the traditional heavy winter foods in the winter; in June or July.
Easter down here comes in the middle of autumn, where as in the north it is a spring event. If I can be so bold then as to offer an off-peak southern spring Easter reflection.
Maybe as you read this reflection you may also want to have your hands out in front or on your lap, because the other focus for this reflection is hands...
“Father into your hands do I commend my spirit”
The Old Testament speaks of God’s hands as a way in which God achieves all his purposes. Its a metaphor for the Spirit of God.
The Psalms speak of God’s creation by saying his hand cast stars in to space
They think of the infinite nature of God by saying that he can hold the whole of the ocean in the cup of his hand, and measure the vastness of the universe in the span of his arms.
It speaks of the immanence and closeness of God to his people by saying he holds them by the right hand. Holding our hand like a good friend or a lover
The rise and fall of Israel was achieved not by their own hands but the strong arm of the Lord
In Jesus coming the word became flesh
That hand of God took on skin and bone
As a baby it would have curled round its mother’s finger
Jesus adult hands reached out to bless Children
Touched a leper and bought healing and acceptance
Touched the blind and the lame and they were made whole
Gave to the poor
Beckoned for people to follow him
Pointed to a shepherd on a hill or a gate as an illustration for a parable
Pointed out corruption and oppression
Gestured for the outcast to come down and dine with him
Embraced a close friend at one final supper
Finally those hands were nailed to the rough wood of the cross
Maybe as we gaze today at the cross it is hard to see the hand of God in what happened there
Maybe it is easier to see the hand of man
Jesus prophesied that the son of man would be betrayed into the hands of men and they would kill him, but that he would rise again on the third day”
Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane is betrayed into the hands of the religious leaders by the kiss of a close and trusted friend
The hands of men drag him before unjust courts
The hands of men point with false allegations at him
They take him before the civil ruler. He is taken out and flogged and beaten by the hand of soldiers
The hand’s of men trust a cruel crown of thorns on his head
The hand’s of that civil ruler are washed of Jesus blood and justice bows to political expediency
The hands of man nail Jesus hands and feet to a cross and haul him upright on this instrument of torture and death
The hands of man point and mockingly gesture “ come on down Jesus, save yourself, he said he could save others but he can’t even save himself
The hands of man condemn him to die.
And Jesus response is not a clenched fist cursing or writing off of humanity
Rather he responds with love
His hands are nailed to the cross so in this greatest of his actions we listen to his words
A prayer for our forgiveness “father forgive them they know not what they do”
A word of salvation to a repentant thief dying on a cross besides him
“truly today you will be with me in paradise”
A word of comfort for a woman whose hands had held him when he was a baby, and a beloved disciple “Dear woman here is your son, here is your mother”
The sun refuses to shine and it is dark for three hours . It is as if God has turned his back. Jesus betrayed into the hands of men seemingly stricken by God, not suffering for his own sin by for ours cries out “My God My God why have you forsaken me”. The son and the father who have always been one separated for our sake.
He says “I thirst”. A parched throat and a parched soul yet all has been done and he said this to fulfil scripture.
There is kindness a human hand passes up some wine to wet his lips.
Then Jesus lets out a great cry of triumph “it is finished” Jesus has achieved all the Father had sent him to do. Our salvation has been won. The great reconciliation between God and humanity has been achieved. The hands of man have done their worst but the hand of God has done a greater good for us. Now it is time to return to the father.
As Isaiah has said “ as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth, and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. So my word does not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I have sent it.”
It is finished and now Jesus returns to the father
“Father into your hands do I commend my spirit”
Then Luke’s gospel tells us he breathed his last and dies.
In the end the hands of man did not take Jesus life from him he yielded it up into the hands of the Father, Jesus is obedient unto death and dies.
“The reason the father loves the son’ Jesus the good shepherd had said in John 10 is that I lay down my life… no one takes it from me I lay it down.
Jesus commends his spirit into the all-powerful hands of God.
The Hand of God that was around the event s of the cross all along working out God’s purposes.
The hands of god that tore the curtain in the temple in two
Signalling that God was choosing to dwell with humanity that Jesus had died to save.
The centurion sees Jesus death and hears his last words and he is amazed and comments “surely this was a righteous man”
The crowd that had started by mocking sees hears Jesus final words of trust in God and they turn to go. Beating their breasts, a sign of grief and contrition. Their hands had done the wrong thing.
The hands of the soldiers take his body down from the cross.
The hands of the women and Joseph of Aramathia wrap him in a grave cloth and take him to a carved out tomb.
They cannot complete the task they of preparing his body for death because the Sabbath comes with the dusk.
Their hands stained with tears and wrung with sorrow as they are forced to leave.
You and I are also bystanders to the scene as we read the scripture as we reflect on the cross.
What is our response to Jesus last words?
Are we willing to follow Jesus example and place our lives into God’s hands being willing to do what God want of us.
Using our hands to pick up our own cross and follow Jesus
“AS Paul would say presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice…”
To use our hands to do the things that God calls us to do.
To hand over the reigns of our lives to the hands of God
God who hold our times in his hand
Who allowed his hands to be nailed to a cross for our sake
Is able to keep us, to hold us, to guide us
To be with us as we take the risk of stepping out and sharing his love
In word and deed
AS with the spirits help we live the risky life of a disciple of Jesus
As we lovingly accept God’s grace
As we raise our hands in worship
As we raise our hands to object to injustice
As we embrace the unloved and unlovable
As we give all we have to the poor
As we pray for the healing of the sick
As we invite and welcome the stranger
As we offer forgiveness from ones we have hurt
And accept reconciliation as other asks for it from us
“into your hand do I commit my spirit”
“into your hands do we commit our spirits
Both in life
And in death
Knowing that as Ecclesiastes says all spirits return to God
Knowing because of Jesus death on the cross
His great grace to us
We can hear the words well-done good and faithful servant
And receive the eternal embrace of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
“It’s Friday” the old black preacher says “it is Friday but Sunday is coming”
“It’s Friday but Sunday is coming”
Philippians tells us about Jesus that the story does not end here. It tells us what God’s hand have done with Jesus Christ his beloved son.
“… and he became obedient even to death, even death on the cross.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
And gave him the name that is above every name
That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow
In heaven and on earth and under the earth
Every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
To the glory of God the father.”