(First Sunday after Easter)
"Unless I see in [Jesus'] hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." By touching, Thomas knew, the other is lifted from the abstract and made a real person. Cynicism leapt instantaneously to faith once Thomas saw, felt, and was able to touch the risen Christ.
Thomas instinctively knew something that many people of faith choose to discount: that faith is made real, and we are made real to one another, not by the abstractions of our theology but by the presence of God mediated through the physical. As Presbyterian poet/hymnwriter Dr. Thomas Troeger has written,
These things did Thomas count as real:
The warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
The grain of wood, the heft of stone,
The last frail twitch of flesh and bone ...
On the Sunday after Easter, like Jesus, "whose raw, imprinted palms reached out/And beckoned Thomas from his doubt ... " we too can beckon one another into a more solid experience of faith by extending our hands.
On the front of the order of worship for this day, a hand print is superimposed with the words of Thomas "Unless I see in his hands. . . . " Underneath the image are printed the words of the hymn "These Things Did Thomas Count as Real" — a hymn that is sung by the community or by a soloist within the service.
To prepare the worship setting, two large cardboard refrigerator boxes procured from an appliance store are rebuilt: The back side is cut away, leaving a three-sided "booth," and the back half of the top is also trimmed off (leaving a half-roof to prevent a person sitting inside from seeing out the front). A round hole approximately 6" in diameter is cut in the center front, and crepe paper streamers are taped to hang down over the hole from inside so that a human hand can be placed through the hole but its owner is not visible from within. A chair or low stool is placed inside each three-walled booth, and another in front: an arrangement vaguely resembling a confessional.
Other supplies needed for the service are scissors (a pair for every four or five worshippers), pencils or felt markers, and colored construction paper.
"Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand," Ashford and Simpson
The Call to Gather
1 John 1:1-4
"Spirit of New Life"
Our Bodily Confession (antiphonally)
Worshippers repeat both words and gestures antiphonally after the leader. Only the first line — "Lord, here are our hands" - is actually printed in the order of worship.
"Lord, here are our hands ... "
Put in deep pockets to keep them safe,
[hands thrust into pockets]
Held behind our backs to keep them hidden from you,
[hands placed behind back]
Placed over our eyes to blind ourselves to the needs of others,
[hands held over eyes]
Buried within sand where they are immobilized and useless,
[fingers entwined and clenched, hands thrust downward toward floor]
Patting ourselves on the back to take credit for all we are and do,
[one hand exaggeratedly patting one's own back]
Grabbing for the material things of life,
[both hands grabbing and clawing at imaginary treasures in the air]
Forever pushing you away.
[both hands flattened, fingers splayed, one in front of the other with palms out, pushing upward as if to hold God at bay]
And Our Bodily Assurance
Again, participants repeat after leader, arms extended and palms up. Only the first line need be printed in the order of worship:
Lord, here are your hands:
Tireless and always there for us.
Beckoning us to come closer.
Holding us secure.
Lifting us up when we are down.
Opening new doors for us.
Revealing special gifts you have given us.
Showing the way to eternal life.
Touching us with overwhelming love.
We are never the same again.
— from "Hand in Hand: A Litany," by Sue Downing
Hearing the Gospel: John 20:19-31
Reader: But Thomas said to them,
All: "Unless I see in Jesus' hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in Jesus' side, I will not believe."
Contemplating the Gospel
"These Things Did Thomas Count as Real," Thomas Troeger and Carol Doran
Either sung as a solo, or sung thoughtfully by the entire community.
Experiencing the Gospel
The leader invites two worshippers to enter the "booths" and be seated inside. Two others are silently chosen to take their places on chairs in front of the booths, putting one hand through the covered opening. Those inside the booths are asked to examine the hand: first by feel and then, opening their eyes, by sight (here) refer the group to 1 John 1:1). They are asked to describe the person, aloud, from the characteristics of the hand; and final, to guess each identity. The two "subjects" then go to a supply table to trace their hands onto construction paper, cut them out, and write on them characteristics accurately cited by the "palm reader" and those owned by the subjects themselves — such as "working ... sensitive ... articulate ... playing the piano." Participants rotate until everyone in the group has had palms "read" and/or read another's hand.
"0 Sons and Daughters, Let us Sing!" using the stanzas for the Second Sunday of Easter
The Prayers of God's People
Bidding prayers suggested by a leader and prayed silently by participants:
I invite you to envision the following hands in your mind's eye and sense in your heart, in each case, that these are the hands of Christ as well:
• wounded hands
• starving, bony hands
• hands of a friend beloved by you
• hands of an enemy: take and hold that hand in your own.
The silent prayers are followed by the following closing litany printed in the order of worship:
All: Lord, we place our hands in yours.
Men: Take them to use as you will.
Women: No other hands can touch in quite the same way as ours.
All: Lord, hand in hand with you, we are:
Men: Reaching out in love to others,
Women: inviting all to experience the abundant life,
All: receiving much more than we give.
Lord, alone our hands are weak, but together with yours they are strong. Amen.
— Sue Downing
"Peace I Leave with You"
Participants exchange their cut-out hands with another with words of benediction.
"Reach Out and Touch ... "