Sermon for Sunday, 19 April 2020 (Easter 2)
Show me your hands
Based on John 20: 19–31
Gracious God: we thank you for your Word and for the eternal truths that guide us day by day. We thank you most of all for the living Word, Jesus Christ, and the sureness of his presence. Teach us how to turn unto you so that your thoughts may be our thoughts, and your ways our ways.
I heard of a funny incident involving a child of one our ministers during these days of lockdown. A few weeks ago, his five-year-old son rushed in from playing outside at dinner time and sat at the table. His mother looked at him and said, ‘Young man, let me see your hands.’ The poor boy attempted to rub the dust and muck off on his khaki shorts before he held them up. His mother looked at them and asked, ‘How many times do I have to remind you that you must wash your hands before you eat? When your hands are dirty, they can carry corona germs and you could get sick. After we say grace, I want you to go to the kitchen and wash them.’ Obediently, after grace the little boy got up and headed to the kitchen, but halfway there, he stopped, turned and said to his mother, ‘Jesus and germs; Jesus and germs; that’s all I hear around here and I haven’t seen either of them!’…
That may be a funny story, but it does point out the fact that our hands can be an identifying characteristic. The National Crime Agency tells us that every one of us has a different set of fingerprints and we can all be identified by our hands. And the same was true for Jesus. On that first Easter, the disciples gathered in that upper room to talk about the Resurrection and as they sat in fear, Jesus came and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. They were frightened, but Jesus reassured them by showing them his hands and feet. Quite often they had seen those hands touch the sick, the blind, the children, the lame and the multitudes in acts of compassion and healing. Quite often they had watched in amazement as those hands performed miracles. Now they saw the hands of Jesus and they knew truly that he was the resurrected Lord.
However, Thomas was absent as he had gone to be alone. King George V must have been like Thomas, because he is reported to have said: If I must suffer, let me be like a well-bred animal, let me go and suffer alone. When the other disciples told Thomas about Jesus’ appearance, he refused to believe them. Perhaps he said, ‘We’ve all been through a great deal of stress lately; is it possible you are imagining this?’ But when the disciples were adamant, Thomas replied, ‘I can’t believe what you’re saying, unless I see with me own eyes the print of the nails in his hands.’ One week later, the disciples, including Thomas, were gathered in the upper room when Jesus appeared in their midst again. Jesus knew what was in Thomas’ heart and he said, ‘Thomas, if it’s proof you want, look at my hands … look where the nails have been.’ Thomas was overwhelmed. His scepticism and doubt were gone. He fell to his knees and said, ‘My Lord and my God.’ Today, as we look with Thomas at the hands of Jesus, there are three things which his hands remind us:
The first thing the hands of Jesus remind us, is his suffering. In our modern society, we believe that the punishment we give to convicted criminals should not be cruel or inhumane. The consequences for this are that criminals reoffend time after time. After all, going to jail is like going on a holiday without having to pay for it. Today, at the expense of Her Majesty, inmates enjoy three meals a day, gym facilities, phones, television; some even have drugs delivered by a drone. The Romans, on the other hand, had perfected the art of making punishment cruel. The victim of crucifixion died a slow and painful death; and the same was true of Jesus. If you didn’t die as quickly as they wanted, they broke all your bones as the Gospels testify. The hands of Jesus reveal just how cruel the cross was as an object of punishment and how much Jesus must have suffered. The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.’ Whenever we doubt that Jesus suffered for us on that cross, all we have to do is look at his hands. The print of the nails will remind us that He really was wounded for our transgressions.
The second thing the hands of Jesus reminds us is his love. I read a true and very moving story of a boy who lived with his grandmother on a farm in the Scottish Highlands in 1925. One night their house caught fire and the grandmother, trying to rescue the boy, who was asleep in the bedroom upstairs, was overcome by the smoke and she died. This village was miles from a fire station and as a crowd gathered around the burning house, they heard a child’s voice crying out for help. The lower floor was completely engulfed in flames and no one seemed to know what to do. Suddenly, a man pushed through the crowd and began climbing up the iron drainage pipe which ran to the roof. The pipe was hot from the fire, but he made it to the second floor, smashed the window with his elbow and pulled the boy out. With the crowd cheering encouragement, he climbed down the hot iron pipe with the boy on his back. A few weeks later, a public meeting was held to determine in whose custody the boy would be placed. Each person wanting the child was asked to make a brief statement. The first man said, ‘I have a farm and would give the boy a good home. He will learn to be farmer.’ The second person to speak was the local schoolteacher. She said, ‘I am a schoolteacher and I would see to it that he received a good education.’ Finally, the banker said, ‘My wife and I would be able to give the boy a fine home and a fine education. We would like him to come and live with us.’ The presiding officer looked around and asked, ‘Is there anyone else who would like to say anything?’ From the back row, a man stood up and said, ‘These other people may be able to offer some things which I can’t, but all I can offer is my love.’ Then, he slowly removed his hands from his coat pockets. A gasp went up from the crowd because his hands were terribly scarred from climbing up and down the hot pipe. The boy recognised the man as the one who had saved his life and ran into his waiting arms. Everyone knew what the decision would be. The scarred hands spoke of his love and the sacrifice he had made to save that boy.
Today, my dear friends there are many things which vie for our love and attention. Both young and old alike, are challenged by the call of money, pleasure, fame and a host of other interests. But let us never forget that down the corridors of time walk one who, by merely raising his hands, reminds us of his claim upon us. Those nail pierced hands are a reminder that there is one who loves us more than any other.
The third and final thing that the hands of Jesus remind us is that we are called to act on our faith: Thomas had doubts about the Resurrection and he said, ‘Unless I see his hands myself, I will not believe.’ He refused to be open-minded about the Resurrection until he was confronted with the risen Christ. Jesus looked at Thomas and said, ‘Thomas, if it’s proof that you want, look at my hands, touch the wounds and stop doubting.’ Thomas looked at the hands and knew that action was needed. Instead of touching the wounds, Thomas fell to the ground and said, ‘My Lord and my God.’ We may have some lingering doubts, we may have some unanswered questions, and we may have some things which will always remain a mystery, but, like Thomas, we must come to that point where we need to translate our doubts into acts of faith. Ladies and gentlemen, faith is not the absence of doubt, but coming to that point where we are standing on the edge of doubt and we cannot see a clear path ahead, but we go on anyway. We go on in the faith that God is with us. We would all like to have absolute proof of things, but, sometimes, we need to respond as Thomas did. We need to look at the hands of Jesus and fall on our knees crying, ‘My Lord and my God.’ I pray that you will all have the faith to believe without seeing; to believe that even in the darkness we currently find ourselves in as we battle the corona virus, he will come through for us because he is risen and in charge.
Praise the Lord!