In 1998 F. Dean Lueking was teaching at the Lutheran seminary in Bratislava, Slovakia.
This article appeared in the Christian Century April 2, 1997 p. 337, copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Acceptance, encouragement, trust and hope come through in the touch of hand upon hands as the risen Lord touches us through others.
Touching can be as routine as a handshake or a high five. It can be as exploitative as lustful pawing, as threatening as a clenched fist. Or, as the Easter account in Luke 24 proclaims, touching can be the means whereby the risen Lord Jesus chooses to make himself known.
After Jesus’ Emmaus appearance, the two disciples hurry back to Jerusalem, where their excited report falls flat. Then Jesus’ sudden appearance scares them out of their wits -- a reaction that would have been ours as well, He shows them his hands and his feet and says, "Touch me and see that it is I myself; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."
Note that none did, however. The story is told carefully, so as not to make faith a tactile matter for a few privileged disciples; instead it conveys a trust in the gospel word of Easter for everyone, for all time.
The resurrected Christ, the text declares, is not the product of the disciples’ overheated imagination. He is no ghost, no apparition. Salvation history has never been woven of gossamer wispiness. In the beginning, as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpiece portrays it, God touched humanity into being. In Jesus’ ministry the little ones climbed up into his lap in response to his welcoming touch. The lepers, made outcasts by their disease, were restored by his healing touch.
Now comes the crowning work of the Father in raising his Son as "a spiritual body." This reality (described in an oxymoron), which would otherwise confound us and lock us up in endless gnosticism, has become "that which we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands" (1 John 1:1). Our God is touchable in his Son, who forgives our sins of touch misused as violent assault or loveless abandonment. The Easter Lord gives us back our touch when he invites us to "touch and see."
Touch nurtures. Before birth we were enfolded in our mother’s womb, then nurtured by the milk from her breast, then consoled by a parent’s shoulder, then congratulated on a commencement day. So all of life’s milestones are marked by touch. Many of us take the nurturing touch right into our liturgy, joining hands and embracing others in the passing of the peace of Christ. Never take such touching for granted. Acceptance, encouragement, trust and hope come through in the touch of hand upon hands as the risen Lord touches us through others.
That nurturing touch gets through when nothing else does. I call on Lucille, who can no longer recognize people or speak because of Alzheimer’s disease. But when I touch her hand, she faintly squeezes back. Is it a sympathetic reflex? A sacramental sign that grace still gets through? Both, I think.
Touch reconciles. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the waiting father does not hold back in tight-lipped reticence, waving a sheet of conditions handed to him by the older brother sulking in the distance. That bear hug of reconciling love says, it all. It speaks of a love strong enough to bear a cross and to say with authority to frightened disciples, "Touch me and see." Through the open arms of forgiven and forgiving people, the deepest wounds are set upon a path of healing.
I see that power at work in pastoral care for those so alienated from each other in faltering marriages that the one can only recoil from the offered hand of the other. These who have shared life’s most intimate and whole-bodied touching cannot touch any more! But signs of breakthrough begin when, after trust is built, each can take my hand as the bearer of Christ’s touch, and allow me to join their hands.
Thus does the Easter Lord keep on inviting, "Touch me and see." That touch surmounts every barrier. Remember the magic moment near the end of the film Driving Miss Daisy: The black chauffeur and the white patrician lady wordlessly clasp their hands in a simple yet profoundly moving gesture. Such moments point to the wonder of reconciliation.
Touch points us to the future. The risen Lord’s invitation to touch and see portends what is yet to come for our bodies. We long for that fulfillment, to embrace the Christ and those long gone from us.
But before all that, our hands are for reaching the hungry, imprisoned, naked, sick and all those in whom Jesus meets us. In prison visits, I see what happens when a visitor leaves the visited. Each places a hand to the glass partition separating them, longing to touch but unable to do so. Seeing that moves me not to take for granted the freedom to clasp another’s hand in the daily rounds of life. The number of hungry folk coming to our church door is rising, and the food pantry boxes in this and other parishes can’t keep up. But ministry moves a notch deeper when there can be a hand on a shoulder and an invitation to sit together and talk about more than a handout. In the hallways of nursing homes across the land, many spend hours wondering if family or friends will ever come to touch their hands. From every side and in the most unexpected ways, the Christ meets us in the call to touch lives that ask so little yet need so much.
Touch sanctifies memory. I have a favorite cup for my morning coffee. It was my mother’s long before it was mine. For years it had its place on the kitchen window sill in my boyhood home. The chip is still on the rim, reminding me of the horseplay my sister and I enjoyed in a time when kids actually washed and dried dishes. My mother’s hands have long since relinquished that flowered coffee cup, but because she was all that she was to me, I can hold it and remember.
We do well to gather our memories around things we can touch, especially baptismal water and the bread and wine of the Easter meal. These sustain us as we journey, hand in hand, with the whole company of the faithful, toward the eternal Easter yet to come..