Thursday, March 3, 2011
Engraved on the Palms of His Hands
In the face of disaster and trouble, we often wonder "where was God?" Like Martha who came out to meet Jesus after Lazarus died, we complain to God "that if only You had been there" this would not have happened. This was the common complaint of God's Old Testament people: "Has God forgotten us? Has He forsaken His people?” Now it is true that sometimes we feel so very alone and that our perception of reality is what we see most clearly. But can God forget us? Will He forget us?
In the Old Testament lesson for today we come face to face with the ever present promise of His grace. Can a woman forget the child at her breast? Even if she can forget, the Lord says He cannot and will not forsake His own. He has engraved us on the palms of His hands – words that take on new meaning when we see the nail prints in Jesus' hands. This love we see on the cross can never forget us.
Can a nursing mother forget her child? It would be hard to imagine. Yet God is bound to us even more strongly than mother to her child. These words stir in us as we heard the words of Jesus in the Gospel lesson for today. The birds of the air neither work nor reap the rewards of their work, yet they are secure in the hands of God's grace. The insignificant and momentary lives of the grass of the field, of the flowers of the meadow, and of the birds of the air are securly in God’s hands. How much more so are you secure in His hands... secure in the clutch of His grace. So let go of your anxiety and turn your attention from your fears to the confidence you have in Christ Jesus.
Why is it impossible for God to forget us? First of all we have the covenant promise of His Word. He has given the solemn promise of His Word and when we speak His Word back to Him we remind Him of what He pledged to us. That is why these promises inform our worship service and our prayers. Saying back to Him what He has said we speak the truest truth. These promises shape our prayers even more than our needs form the words of our supplications. When we pray for His promises more than from our needs, we are drawn into confidence that whatever comes, God’s good and gracious will holds us securely in His grasp forevermore.
Second, God cannot forget us because His mercy did not come cheap – it came at the cost of the suffering and death of the cross. For our heavenly Father to forget us would be to forget Jesus' suffering and death that purchased us back from sin and restored us to life in Him. Our Lord is no day trader with our souls but the long term investor who has invested His all in Christ and whose goal for us is nothing less than eternity.
Finally, God cannot forget us because He has gathered us into the arms and feeds us the nurture of His grace by setting His Table in the presence of our enemies and giving us Christ's own body and blood as food and drink. The God who bids us come, who sets us in the place of honor, and who feeds us heaven's bread and salvation's cup can no more turn His back on us than forget Himself. This Table feeds us for today, for sure, but is also our foretaste of eternity.
God cannot forget His children and He has the scars to prove it. He has engraved us by name on the palm of His hand. Now what do you suppose our Lord is talking about here? Could the engraving be the mark of the nails, the imprint of Calvary, and the wounds of the cross? Remember Thomas who did not believe Christ was risen and who insisted upon seeing the holes in Jesus' hand and the wound in His side? These marks do not heal and fade. They are the permanent marks of love, the eternal engraving of your names and mine upon the hands of our Savior. This is what love has done and what forgiveness He has won. Looking into the mirror of our sin we can often despair but looking into the wounds of Christ we find only love strong enough to forgive us and hope that endures to everlasting life. God cannot forget this. Why do we?
That same wounded and scarred hand extends to us the Holy Food that imparts to us Calvary's gift and the grace of the empty tomb. Hidden in the bread that is His body and the cup of His blood is the love that can never let us go. Every Sunday He gives to us the gift of Himself. Jesus is not only the Giver, He is the Gift. He is permanently invested in the lives of those for whom He died and rose again. How can He forget us? How can He ignore us in our time of need?
From this confidence, St. Paul insists. We are not our own – not our thoughts or our fears or our sins or our needs or our wants or our desires. They all belong to Him. We were bought with a price. We belong to Him and He has marked us as His own in baptism. We walk our path in this world as the beloved of the Lord, who are always on His mind, always in His heart.
We face the uncertainty of the future with the certainty of His grace and favor on our side. We face our enemies in the world with His friendship always with us. We face our callings as witnesses and workers of mercy with the vision of His cross ever before us. His mercy is our most prized and precious possession. We face the world not as a people who cower in fear but as a confident and courageous people – we know that nothing can separate us from His love and this is the force and power that compels us to speak His word of welcome to every stranger.
In our wounds we often cry out, "Where were you God?" In our sorrows we wonder if perhaps God has forgotten us? In our fears, we fear that we are all alone, on our own. Nothing could be further from the truth. God cannot turn away from us. Even the ugly stain of our sin could not turn Him from us. He took that sin upon Himself in Christ Jesus. We are the children whom He has nursed to life in the waters of our baptism. We are the heirs of Christ's death and the recipients of His life. We are the people of His promise, whom He serves at this Table with the food that is Christ's body and blood. When He reaches out to us, we see in His hand love's engraving of our names. We may not be able to trust in others, but He will never fail us.
This is not only our comfort as a people who seek His presence, who stand today to exchange the anxieties of this mortal life for the grace of His kingdom... no, this is not merely our comfort but our courage. Our courage as a people who have been given a purpose and a calling as His people, serving Him by serving our neighbor, loving Him by loving our neighbor.
Today we come with all our burdens to lay them down before Him. And He tenderly invites us to come to Him, to take His light burden and easy yoke, and to walk with Him even as He has promised to walk with us. We see the birds of the air, the grass of the field, and the creatures of the earth and we know, He who care for them, will never let us go... not now, and never. Amen