Shaking hands is a significant gesture with many meanings; you shake hands as an introduction, a welcome, or a way of apologising. In church we shake hands with each other when we say The Peace; it’s a sign of friendship. It’s also a way of judging the temperature of the congregation. Hands range from toasty hot to really chilly on a cold morning, and it’s tempting to linger in a brief attempt to share some body warmth.
The worst thing you can do with a hand offered in friendship is to ignore it. We have seen the repercussions of this in the news lately- two footballers from rival teams; one of darker skin reaching out his hand to his lighter skinned rival who passed him by, unseeing. I am not a football fan and I’m not sure what was at issue here in the ’beautiful game’- I only saw the look of dismay on the footballer whose outstretched hand was offered to his rival, and who was snubbed.
Many women who are ordained priests in the Church of England are feeling snubbed too. Women priests have worked hard to prove themselves in parishes around the country, and a nationwide vote of confidence has shown that the majority of dioceses are in favour of women bishops. Yet still their ability, or their right, to take high office is being questioned. It seems some men still cannot recognise their worth and are blind to their outstretched hands.
Jesus was a very hands-on person. He touched the leper, he put his hands on the eyes of the blind, and placed his fingers in the ears of the deaf; he held the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law to raise her up, and he lifted an epileptic boy from the ground in healing. He took a young child from the crowd and embraced it to show how even the humblest and least valued person should be made welcome. With Jesus there was no distinction of race, age or gender.
At the end he stretched out his arms in love on the cross. The authorities hoped that by nailing his healing hands to the wood they would put an end to his subversive gospel- but they were wrong. His message lives on, and we are now his earthly hands. Let us follow his example by taking the hands of others (even the ones we may find it hard to like) in a gesture of warmth and acceptance.
A Happy and Joyous Easter to you all