“Open my hands, Lord.” Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 ; Psalm 27 ; Philippians 3:17—4:1 ; Luke 13:31-35 –
At the seminary I have a class called Ecology and Stewardship. The class planted seeds a few weeks ago. The seedlings are on a rack in the main entry way to the seminary. While the cold air and snow were outside, it was an act of faith to plant seeds. We trusted that the groundhog was right this year, and that we would be transplanting those seedlings into the ground pretty soon.
Why in the world is a seminary class planting seeds? Well one thing is that we’re reading a book called Scripture, Culture, Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Old Testament by Dr. Ellen Davis of Duke University Divinity School. She is opening our eyes that a great deal of the Old Testament is about caring for the land and living well in the land. It turns out that the Hebrew people were especially grateful for their place in Canaan land, because they remembered the up-rootedness of slavery and homelessness.
So one reason our seminary class has planted seeds is to participate at least a little bit in that which we are reading about.
But another reason is that in our society today there are stretches of urban neighborhoods called “food deserts,” where the people do not have access to sufficient food and good nutrition. Gardening in a place that has suffered oppression or neglect can be a form of resistance to injustice. Ironically, there are food deserts in rural places, too. People drive past large fields of corn or soy beans, but the households in the area do not have access to healthy food and sufficient nutrition. So our class is exploring the practical steps to establish good food in an urban or rural setting that works toward health and shalom such as the Bible reflects.
And there’s another reason we are planting seeds in a seminary class. We are learning to care for the soil. If the soil were healthy it would sequester carbon. So we are practicing a positive response to carbon overload in the atmosphere. Soil is not a mine from which to extract food. Soil is a living community of organisms, and we can build it up instead of depleting it.
In our class I watched how differently we used our hands when we did the planting. It was different than most of the classes I took when I was in school. The posture of our hands in school are usually curled in to type or write. When you’re planting and gardening, your hands open and close and move all about, to sort seeds, and mix soil, and water the plants and pull the weeds.
I can easily imagine that Jesus had his hands open when he looked over Jerusalem and lamented that he had not gathered the people together like a hen gathers her chicks. Gathering is an open-handed activity.
The opposite of gathering in the scripture text is rejection and death, the stoning of the prophets. The hands in Jerusalem, the hands of those who stoned the prophets, were curled around the rocks they threw, locked like fists. The hands of the Romans who crucified Jesus were wrapped around a hammer, and wrapped around wood and ropes by which they pulled up the cross so that Jesus died.
Jesus was on his way to a prophet’s death. Why didn’t he just move on? How tragic it is that Jesus goes right into the middle of the place where he will give his life. In our eyes, in our way of calculating costs and benefits, this is not a good plan. Jesus should have moved on. To go down into Jerusalem was, in our eyes, nothing but a waste.
When someone was crucified, their body was thrown on the garbage heap. They were thrown out literally.
We know all about garbage heaps nowadays. We have the largest garbage heaps in history. They are in the land, they are in the ocean. The overload of carbon in our atmosphere is our waste, our dump of emissions from fossil fuels. We have lots of garbage heaps, and we know how to consume, throw away and move on.
With more and more garbage around us, those who love Jesus are becoming more and more anxious that their beloved Jesus might get tossed aside, thrown out after all, added to the garbage. We worry that other people are not going to care. And then we worry about failure. Maybe we’re going to fail in our responsibility to share Jesus with the world. We’d really rather save Jesus from rejection, obscurity, irrelevance, the garbage heaps. And we’d like to save ourselves too.
But the good news is that the work of Jesus Christ on the cross is complete, full and finished once and for all. And no work can add any value to the completed work of Jesus Christ. Likewise no sin can ever scrape the tiniest amount of value away from the full, complete work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
It was not a waste for Jesus to stay in that place where he was crucified. For he completed his work and God raised Jesus from the dead.
So what are we supposed to do. Well, first there are the word and sacraments. The means of grace. We teach and preach the story of Jesus and his cross. That is a means of grace, a means of encounter with Jesus. We baptize. We share the meal. These are the actions that tell the cross and bring people into the presence of Jesus Christ.
God did not let Jesus go to waste, and God will not leave Jesus on the shelf either. Christ Jesus comes through the means of grace.
When we break bread, our hands automatically open, even while we grasp the loaf. Breaking bread is an act of giving. It is an act of gathering. It shows profound faith that everyone who comes to the bread is not bound for garbage heaps, just as God did not let Jesus go to waste.
And so we also plant gardens and reach out to hungry neighborhoods and try to makes scenes of grace that reflect the means of grace. This is what we do to stay close with Jesus. The means of grace, and reaching out to create scenes of grace. That is how we are being gathered like chicks by the mother hen, Jesus Christ. And that is why we open our hands, in the giving and receiving of grace.
~Dr. Gil Waldkoenig, 3/24/16