In the last few days we’ve become much more aware of what we’re doing with our hands. The government is urgently telling us “wash your hands thoroughly” and “don’t touch your face”. Until recently it was normal to shake hands…now it’s forbidden to get close enough to even bump elbows! I’ve started carrying a little bottle of hand sanitiser on my (now rare) trips to the supermarket. And yesterday I found myself staring at a cardboard box just delivered by the Amazon man, wondering if his hands carried the virus we’re so eager to avoid. It seems no pair of hands is safe, including my own.
At the same time, we watch the daily press briefings of political leaders and health experts as they make huge decisions about our lives and hope they’re a safe pair of hands. We want to know we can trust them to make the best decisions for us and those we love. But part of what makes the coronavirus pandemic so frightening is that we know they can’t control it. Despite the enormous (and growing) powers of the world’s prime ministers and presidents, the unsettling truth is that the outcome of this pandemic is out of their hands.
And so a lot of people are understandably anxious. About the virus, about the social distancing and isolation it’s brought, about the economic fallout personally and collectively, and about how long all this will go on for. Some people avoid anxiety by escaping to Netflix or making light of the situation. But there is a way of facing up to the reality without sinking down into despair.
In this time, I find enormous comfort through knowing and trusting in Jesus. Interestingly enough, Jesus’ hands feature a lot in the gospels that record his life. And, unlike ours today, his hands aren’t something to fear or doubt.
Jesus’ hands bring healing
Luke’s gospel says, “The people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.” (Luke 4:40) When Jesus touched sick and infectious people, he wasn’t contaminated…they were cleansed. Jesus can and does heal today, but verses like that aren’t a guarantee of physical healing. The healings Jesus performed are a sign of the even greater work of Jesus to restore and heal this broken and dying world. They’re a glimpse of the new creation that Christians await. A ‘breaking–in’ of a future kingdom in which there will be no more sickness or death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). And so we pray, “your kingdom come”. Jesus’ hands bring healing.
Jesus’ hands bring salvation
They also bring a deeper kind of healing that we call salvation. Because when the hands of Jesus were nailed to the cross, he was punished, that we might be forgiven. As the prophet Isaiah had written centuries earlier, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) And so the outstretched, pierced hands of Jesus are an invitation to all the world to come to him and receive salvation – the forgiveness of our sins.
Jesus’ hands bring peace
These same, pierced hands bring peace. In John chapter 20 we read that on the first Easter Day the disciples were locked up indoors because they were afraid of a deadly threat outside. If you like, they were ‘self–isolating’ as many in the world are today. And into that context, it says, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!“ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19–20) The hands of the risen Jesus bring peace to fearful people because they show us death itself can be reversed, its power defeated. They allow us to know we can trust Jesus’ promise that he will take us through death into eternal life if we believe and trust in him (John 11:25–26). That can give us the most wonderful peace in the face of death. And that’s why it’s a message that so many millions of people need to hear today as they contemplate their mortality.
Last week even a 21–year–old lady with no underlying health conditions died from coronavirus. None of us is immune or immortal. Whether through this pandemic or something else, each of us will die. One day the coffin in the hearse will be mine. One day, yours. That is why there is such comfort in these words of Jesus about his followers, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
Jesus’ hands are stronger than coronavirus and anything else in the universe. His hands are the only place of eternal security.
So wash your hands, don’t touch your face, follow government advice. But let this pandemic help you to see that there’s only one safe pair of hands in the universe… and they’re held out to you today.