Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + March 16, 2016 + Service of Healing
Readings: Deut. 15:7-11; James 5:13-16; Mark 6:1-5
During our Wednesday evening Lenten services we have been reflecting on the prayer, “Open My Life, Lord.” Week by week, we’ve been asking God to open our eyes, our ears, our hearts. Today we ask God to open our hands.
Our hands communicate a lot, often without us even thinking about it. We gesture when we talk; we fidget; we point; we twiddle our thumbs. Body language experts will tell you that one of the easiest ways to read people is to pay attention to their hands; and in fact humans tend naturally to pay more attention to what the hands are saying than to the rest of the body. So a lot of hand-language you know intuitively: Hidden palms (behind her back, in her pockets) can indicate that she is trying to hide something; pointing can read like a show of force; we touch people to show affection — or violence; clenched fists can show anger or a desire to protect oneself.
Open hands are a universal symbol for openness and honesty. We might show our open hands to indicate: “Look? See? No Weapons!” or “Come here, let me hug you!” or “I’m telling you the truth.” In fact, we unconsciously show our palms more in conversations when we’re being honest or intimate.
Because hands communicate so much, worship leaders use their hands in very specific ways, and many of these gestures come down from ancient times. A lot of them — you’ll notice now that I’ve pointed it out — have to do with open palms. “The Peace of the Lord be with you.” “Let us pray.” “May the Lord bless you and keep you.” I’m sure that many of you make your hands part of your worship, too, whether that’s in how you pray (with hands folded or held open); when you cross yourself; when you gesture back “and also with you”; or the way you hold your hands up to receive communion.
But of course hands are also about getting things done. Hands build; hands knit; hands write; hands carry and hold. Hands paint; hands perform surgery; hands scratch an itch.
At this service, we remember especially how often hands are used to heal. We might think of how Jesus laid his hands on people who were sick in order to heal them, or of how “the laying on of hands” continues to be a practice in churches as we pray for someone in need. Or we might think of a doctor or nurse touching a patient in order to better understand what’s going on in his body or to administer care. We might think of a mother gently caressing the forehead of a sick child.
Hands appear many times in today’s Bible readings: in James they are used to anoint the sick, and we might also imagine how hands are held in prayer: hands folded as we plead with God, palms held open to ask and receive, hands held as a community prays together, hands touching another person as we pray for them.
In the gospel reading, Jesus lays his hands on people to heal them. And I always think this verse is kind of funny, because it’s so understated: “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” But it’s a reminder of how central healing was to the mission of Jesus Christ: Jesus healed people physically (blind people; people with leprosy; people who could not walk; people with blood disease; people who were close to dead…or even dead). Jesus also healed people in spiritual ways: people who were outcast, Jesus welcomed in; people who were mourning, Jesus comforted; people who were looking for meaning, Jesus called to mission; people trapped in sin or laden with guilt, Jesus offered forgiveness and direction…the list goes on and on. In Jesus Christ we see that one fundamental aspect of God’s mission here among us, is to heal us…in every way imaginable.
The Deuteronomy reading invites us to be part of God’s mission of healing by telling us to really pay attention to our hands and how we use them — both physically and metaphorically. “Do not be…tight-fisted toward your need neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willing lending enough to meet the need.” This passage is basically about giving to people who need material help: money, food, clothes. The writer says: don’t close your fists to hold tight to what you have; open your hands and give.
But we can also think about the many other ways that people are in need: people are lonely; people feel betrayed; people are sick; people suffer because someone in their life is hurting; people need help lifting and carrying or getting up out of a chair.
And so there are many ways we can open our hands to provide many different kinds of healing touch: we can offer a handshake or hug in welcome; we can pray with someone; we can use our skills and talents to meet needs; we can invite people into conversation.
As we ask God to open our hands, we may think of that specific gesture. Open our hands to welcome people, to be open to others, to share what we have. But we can also think of all the other things our hands can do: our skills. We can ask God to open the whole wealth of our hands capabilities’ to be of service to God’s mission.
Please hold your hands open with me as we pray. Open our hands, Lord, to reach out to a world in need. May our arms enfold those who sorrow, our palms bear mercy and grace, and our fingers point to your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Prayer from Melissa Mole, “Midweek Lenten Series: Open My Life, Lord,” Seasonal Rites for Lent in Sundays and Seasons, Year C 2016 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), p. 108.