Of all the words that Jesus speaks in the final hours of his life, the single word that I keep thinking about this week is the word “hands.”
He says it in his final sentence. He says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
That resonates for me because I’ve been remembering just how many sets of hands have been part of the story of his final night and day.
There were the hands laid on him since his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before.
There were the hands of Judas.
The hands of the Temple authorities who arrest him, put him on trial, then strike him, taunting him after his conviction, saying “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:68).
There were the hands of the Roman soldiers, who literally strip him, beat him, and mock him.
There were also the hands of Pilate, which he washes before the crowd, declaring that he is innocent of Jesus’ blood, and that they are the ones who have convicted Jesus to death.
There were the hands that crucified Jesus and cast lots for his clothing.
The hands of injustice and cruelty have been hard at work to discipline this body…this bad subject of the Emperor…so that any others tempted to make their own unfortunate little displays of whatever might think twice.
These are the hands that hit and strangle, the hands that serve to administer injustice. The hands that so easily wash themselves of any of us when they start to feel unclean.
Many of us know these hands.
Yet as Jesus feels himself getting weaker…as he recognizes perhaps that it is getting harder and harder for him to breathe…that the end is not far off…it is not those hands he talks about.
Instead, he talks about God’s hands.
Jesus proclaims that it is God’s hands that will hold him now — that now his spirit is in God’s hands alone.
There is defiance in that.
It’s a proclamation.
He’s proclaiming that the agents of Empire, with all their violence, with all their rigged systems, with all their hypocrisy, selfishness and sin, might have taken his poor body, but despite all that, they have not taken his soul.
They have not won.
He has not been silenced. He does not love Big Brother.
That makes me think.
Because you know, we say that there are things far worse than death in this world. It’s easy enough to say.
It is easy enough to say that the things that kill our souls are worse than anything that might happen to our bodies.
But what gives us the strength to live that out?
Especially, what gives us the strength to proclaim it with our lives when the hands of hatred have been…are…on us?
That kind of defiant hope can only come out of the spirit.
It can only come as this voice, this sense, this inner certainty that whatever might befall us, truth still matters. That goodness still matters…that who we are before God still matters.
Even when darkness has us in its clutches, it is the something that reminds us that the Kingdom of God is never as far away as we might think.
It’s what holds on for dear life, knowing that the power to change hearts and minds and even the work of hands is far greater and far closer than it might first appear.
Eternity is already at work.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” it has been said, “but I know who holds the future.”
Good Friday pushes us to reflect upon the work of our hands — our own shortcomings, our own sins, our own dark inclination to join the crowd.
Defiant hope is what life looks like when we know that we are in God’s tender hands, come what may. And that the world is in God’s hands, too, whatever may happen to us.
So today we remember that, with his hands outstretched upon the cross, Jesus reaches out.
Jesus reaches out to lift us all.