“Rise up and look at your hands, to grow, hold it out to your brother. Together we will go united in blood. Today is the time that can be tomorrow.”
This is a translation from the Chilean song by Victor Jara, “Plegaria de un labrador” or “Prayer of a Worker.” “Free us,” it continues, “from the one who rules us in poverty. Bring us your kingdom of justice and equality... Your will be done, finally, here on earth. Give us your strength and your courage to fight...”
Many of us think during this long weekend of their last vacation hurrahs before the year begins again. That’s how I marked it as a child. I thought it was just a special holiday to mark the end of summer, after which, the labor of school and all the other programmatic things picks up again. I didn’t realize that it in fact is a day to celebrate the strength and courage - the fight- of many workers to get us weekends at all! I didn’t realize it spoke to the loving labor of many hands that all of us may know our human dignity, even as we work.
In today’s passage we heard the hands of God described as those of a potter at the wheel, continually working and reworking us. This vision that Jeremiah witnessed rewound the narrative of an unsavable, unsalvageable people into a new creation. The awful possibility of destruction, however, is not remitted. God assures that the painful possibility of destruction, that punishment for not meeting our creator as its hands bend us - that being unworkable bits of clay - will mean we shall be thrown out. Unfortunately for us, we are never quite up to the task of really being workable on our own. As seen throughout history and mirrored in scripture, we can’t rely entirely on ourselves to be just the right clay for our God. But our God also doesn’t relinquish us, even in our imperfection. Rather, God relinquished control of the wheel, released its hands, to know what it means to be workable human clay.
Workable and with us as our Emmanuel. Look at your hands. Christ came to have imperfect hands that work and clasp, and touch, and suffer and feel untouched and unclasped and disconnected just as we can and do. And though the same hands that broke bread for the body he named his own were also nailed through, Christ’s resurrection meant that we all were workable. Even the ultimate destruction of death did not mean a defeated body and unworkable body. Christ proved that there is always the possibility of being workable.
Even more than this, the Spirit descended as a gift to our bodies, to our hands. After Christ ascended, the Spirit of God descended upon us during Pentecost. Thus was God no longer simply with us, but within us - within our workable and now working hands. Christ’s redemption from there forward moves from the one act of his resurrection to the infinitude of our loving hands.
ow do we know that the Spirit moves our hands? We know when they are the wielders of a specific love. A first impulse may be to say it is a creative love - that love never destroys, never hurts. However, I want to give a bit more weight to our Jeremiah passage and play with the possibility that love can be both. That loving well doesn’t always mean good things happen. Indeed, I believe we all know from life’s experience that love can be a source of pain. That love can be the reason we say good-bye or let go or take on a task we don’t really like or is actively uncomfortable for us - for love, right?
So in light of our passage today, my suggestion is to ask ourselves instead, when we wonder if the Spirit moves through our hands, whether they display a love that is redemptive in nature. Do they, in the words of our prophet Jeremiah, “shape evil against itself.” This is, after all the powerful love of Christ, who took the cross, this site of suffering, and turned it against itself. Oppressive powers do not stand in the face of it redemptive love, are undone entirely by it. This redemptive love that happens, if even for one moment, means it is eternally possible - just as the moment of the resurrection means God’s love for us is eternally possible. Our hands display the love that God’s hands prove in loving us, a love that refuses to remit, that re-creates and re-members the many parts of our bodies into one body as God’s children.
This is what we do as we take communion, we re-member one another into the body of Christ as God’s children. Now, I take the identity of being God’s child so seriously, I pay a lot of attention to children’s tales. Ok, maybe it’s just an excuse to see some beautiful storytelling, but it is as such because, like children themselves, there is great courage and wisdom in children’s tales. The most recent one I enjoyed and encourage you to see, is called Kubo and the Two Strings. In it, memories are powerful things, so powerful they create a music that changes the bad, vengeful memories of another’s lifetime into a new set of memories of kindness. The main character in the movie helps a villain to remember (to recreate his memories), and re-member into the community - to become a member of the community again. With the plucking of a powerful chord, using hands to wield the loving act of recreation and betterment for another, even if they are your enemy, this is the potter-God’s Spirit, this is God’s working nature moving through your hands.
Look at your hands. Do they make real that which is better than before? And not better just for ourselves, but better for all Israel, for all of God’s children. Is is redemptive? Do they labor to save someone other than yourself? Do they help to re-member us together? Considering God’s children encompasses the entirety of humanity, that is a tall order. But through Christ, our hands were anointed break bread and feed the hungry, to touch the sick, to re-member the persecuted, to mold the world we share.
“Rise up and look at your hands.” Look at your hands, feel their potency. Mold this world around you with your loving touch. Increase their potential and grasp the hands of another. In the word’s of Jara’s prayer, “Rise up and look at your hands, to grow, hold it out to your brother. Together we will go united in blood, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”