St. Luke 23.vv.44-56
~ It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit". Having said this he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was innocent". And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. ~
Perhaps the loveliest of all prayers is that which Jewish children are bidden to say at night as they feel sleep stealing upon them, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" - the last Word of Jesus on the Cross. Whatever may happen to the body, it is the spirit that matters. If the spirit is in God's hands, all is well.
New-born babies have their little fists clenched as a rule, but as they go through life they learn (or should) to open out their little hands in giving and receiving. Some people find difficulties in opening their hands (figuratively speaking) but in death the hands are open.
We speak of open-handed friendship, of joining hands in trust and companionship, the handclasp of true love, the "Peace" that is shared in the Eucharist.
We extend our hands in friendship to those we do not know. In pictures and photographs of Brother Roger of the Taize Community, he is often portrayed as stretching out his hands to the poor, the sick, the outcast.
All too familiar is the outstretched hand of the beggar, but in a sense we are all beggars as we stretch out our hands to receive Holy Communion for we are all dependent on God's grace, in need of his pardon and peace.
Beautiful are the hands toil-worn with loving service. "Thy hands have made me and fashioned me" (Psalm 119.v.73) says the Psalmist to God.
A little boy was ashamed of his mother's scarred hands until one day his father told him, "When you were tiny in your cot it caught fire, but Mummy beat out the flames with her bare hands". From then on these scarred hands were for him the most beautiful hands in the world.
Following the example of Jesus and the Old Testament, we practise the "laying on" of hands in blessing and ordaining to service in the Church.
Jesus' hands were healing hands. He touched and people were made whole.
Durer's representation of "praying hands" is ever popular and well-loved, but even more poignant for Christians are the hands of Jesus, wounded for us, "Behold my hands".
For true Christians, whether we live or whether we die, there is the conviction that "God's hands are kind hands".