Scripture | Psalm 116:1-12 | John 13:1-17
Do you know what it means to be touched by someone with peace in their hands? Do you know what that feels like? Do you know what it looks like? Hands of peace, without tension, without forcefulness, just love, and tenderness?
Writer and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor tells of going to visit her grandmother, an intimidating woman with a “shrewd business sense” and a notoriously “bad temper.” Even her appearance was intimidating, with both legs amputated from untreated diabetes, and with her dark aviator sunglasses to protect her eyes, she looked, Taylor says, “like a handicapped bomber pilot.”
But she loved her grandchildren, doted on them, lavished love on them. Each one got their own special turn for her undivided attention, unconditional affection; special treats, piles of presents, lazy afternoons together. And pampering.
When my night came she treated me like long lost royalty, filling the tub with suds and then beckoning me in, where she washed each of my limbs in turn and polished my skin with her great soft sponge. After she had dried me off… she anointed me with Jergen’s Lotion… Then she reached for her dusting powder – Evening in Parish – and tickled me all over with the pale blue puff. When she had done, I knew I was precious. I was absolutely convinced I was loved.
Have you ever seen that kind of touch, that kind of love, from someone with peace in their hands?
At Bible study Tuesday I asked that question: do you remember a time when you’ve seen tender hands taking care of another? They were quiet for a moment, and then the stories came:
Robin Brown, watching her husband Grieg help her grandmother to transfer into the car… . He had worked with elderly people, and knew how to use a gentle touch and strong support. Robin remembers her grandmother looked at him with surprise and gratitude and said, “Oh, my, you’re good!”
There was peace in his hands.
Marcy Loats, seeing the physical therapists at Kendal after her knee surgery. She witnessed the patient, personal touch the therapists gave, so respectfully and tenderly… firmly getting the therapy done with even the most fragile people, but in a wonderful way, with genuine care, calling the person by name…
There was peace in their hands.
Rich Gallagher, remembering his mother’s move to a nursing home to get the care she needed. She didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave her home, cried all the way. But the staff welcomed her with such tender care. You could see the change in her countenance as she began to calm, to relax…
There was peace in their hands.
When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, you know there must have been peace in his hands. There must have been. It was what he was teaching them, wasn’t it? How to love?
So why was it so hard for Peter to receive it?
It’s hard to receive love sometimes, hard to let someone care for you. And for Peter, it seemed so wrong for his Master to give such humble service to him. Peter didn’t deserve it; he was unworthy; it should be the other way around. This was something not even house-slaves were required to do, and this was his Teacher and Lord!
And honestly, Peter might have been embarrassed that Jesus would lower himself to such an act. What was he trying to prove? This was a radical, subservient act of humility.
Some day you’ll understand, he told Peter. Some day you’ll understand, this is what love looks like.
“If I, your Lord and Teacher, wash your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet, too. I have given you an example: As I have done, so you must do. Truly, truly, I tell you, a slave is not greater than the master, and a messenger not greater than the sender. If you know all these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
Blessed are you if you do them.
Blessed are you if you can touch another with peace in your own hands.
Blessed are you if you can receive this kind of love, openly, willingly, with all your defenses down.
Blessed are you if you can give this kind of love, openly, willingly, tenderly.
Blessed are you if you can be that generous, and that vulnerable.
It is a blessing, isn’t it?
But it’s not easy…
I think of the people I’ve known, who care for others who are fragile. Parents of newborns and babies and toddlers, playing with their children, holding them, feeding them… it’s beautiful to watch, a delight. But we don’t see how hard it is in the middle of the night, when they’re exhausted, when that adorable baby has colic, is screaming with ear infections, won’t sleep. How much harder peace is when the demands never end…
I think of older adults caring for parents or husbands or wives, fragile bodies requiring round-the-clock care. The wife with dementia who doesn’t know day from night, up at all hours, wandering… The husband whose disease makes him violent, not like he was in his right mind, but frightening… The parent, weakened from pneumonia, from infections, who can no longer get up on her own but keeps on trying, and falls… How much harder to have peace in your hands when the care is so draining, so draining.
Where does peace come from then?
It comes from Jesus… from his own hands, washing us clean… from his own love, washing our feet… from his own tenderness, and humility, washing away our impatience, our tension, our anger, our fear…
When Peter protested what Jesus was doing, he answered, “If I don’t wash you, you will have no share in my life.” When he washes our feet, then we can follow his example… It’s Jesus’ hands of peace that give us hands of love.
Centuries ago, around the year 1000 AD, a Greek orthodox abbot and poet wrote of this miracle, of Christ living in us and through us; not because of our worthiness but because of Christ’s humility and tenderness. Symeon the New Theologian wrote these words:
You are clean, you are whole, you are lovely, you are radiant…
Your hands are his hands….
Your hands are hands of peace.