Rev. John Wilke, preacher
If a picture paints a thousand words, then what words does this picture paint? This picture of Barbara’s hand being held by a daughter is a scene no doubt repeated many times through her life. But I would guess more often than naught, it was Barbara, the mother, whose hand would hold her daughter's.
The hand of a mother does many things throughout the life of a child. When the child is still an infant, that mother’s hand reaches out to grasp those tiny fingers as if to say, “It’s all going to be okay.” And in the middle of the night when a daughter is fearful, that mother’s hand reaches out and brings safety and security. A mother’s hand can, in one moment, be raised in discipline, and then in the next be found wiping away tears. A mother’s hand offers unconditional love to the child scorned by others. A mother’s hand offers guidance to that unstable baby taking those first few steps. A mother’s hand, every wrinkle and every scar or swollen joint, is a sign of love.
But a mother’s hand also bears the signs of sin. And in this picture, the frail hand of Barbara serves as a clear reminder to us of the curse of sin. This hand is aged, this hand is weary, and this hand is clinging to her daughter’s as life is slipping away. Death is that sure and certain reminder of sin; both in our world and in our lives.
But there is another set of hands we can picture today. Those hands were described to us in our gospel reading. The first set of hands belong to a doubter named Thomas. He cannot believe in the Lord’s resurrection unless his eyes can see and his hands can touch the wounds of his savior.
So our hands and Barbara’s hands begin life as the hands of a doubting Thomas. We cannot believe what we cannot see, we cannot trust what we cannot understand. We live in doubt and disbelief, leading to despair and death. Unless a hand reaches out save us we have no hope.
The other hands in our gospel today are the hands of Jesus. They are scarred and bloody with the wounds of crucifixion. They are the hands of a dead man now living. Those hands of Jesus, the hands of Thomas’ Lord and God, are the hands of our salvation.
It is Jesus, who reaches down into humanity, down into our lives and grabs our hands. He reaches down to hold our hand because our human hand in its weakened, sinful state cannot reach up. He holds onto our hands because our grasp is too frail.
The hands of Jesus, like the hands of mother, do many things for each of us. Those hands were stretched out upon the cross, pierced by nails all for our sake. In baptism that hand of Jesus traced upon our foreheads and our hearts the sign of the cross marking us and Barbara as one redeemed.
The hand of Jesus, through the preaching of the Word, has been raised to us in discipline, calling us to repentance. And then that same hand reaches down in grace and mercy to place Jesus’ own body and blood upon our lips that we might be forgiven. When we are frightened and afflicted by the events of this world, the hand of Jesus reaches out and takes hold of our hand and walks us through the valleys of this life.
And as we begin to lose our grip on this life and this world, the hand of Jesus even more holds onto our hand. The strong hand of our savior leads us safely through the valley of the shadow of death so that we need not fear. His hands lead us gently into the loving arms of our waiting heavenly Father.
On Valentine’s Day, I met with Barbara and commended her to the Lord. In her room we read the words of Psalm 31. There together we prayed, “Into your hands I commend my spirit, you have redeemed me. O LORD faithful God.” In death Barbara was entrusted into the hands of her heavenly Father who so graciously provided for her in this life through the hands of Jesus.
Even now, in the midst of things we cannot fully understand Jesus comes with hands of love and tender mercy. He comes to the grieving that he might wipe away their tears in the promise of heaven where there will be no more crying and no more tears. In life and death the Lord held Barbara’s hand and so he will for us as well. May the hand of God rest upon all who grieve and mourn that they might know his grace and mercy.