I tipped the cruet over his hands. "Lord, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." he said, as the water splashed into the bowl held below. Finishing this he took the towel from its place hanging over my left arm, dried his hands and returned it. As I turned away to leave he turned toward the altar and the congregation and began the familiar phrase. “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.
Though it was only a moment, I was then struck by the image of his hands, resting there on the edge of the altar, contrasted against the white linen on the altar cloth. In that glimpse they were at the same time the hands of many old men and also the hands of very special men. This particular man at the altar was Archbishop Buechlein of Indianapolis but the specific location of his ministry is not what is important. What makes this man special is his office of Bishop, his role as a successor to the apostles, and as a successor to the Apostles those hands can do wonderful things.
Those hands, at that moment resting on the altar, will be in a few moments extended out over the presented gifts of simple bread and wine. That humble food will become, through the power of the Holy Spirit, given him by his office, the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation.
Those hands, creased and tired from hard work, when laid upon the head of a young man or woman this Easter will seal them with the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Those hands, weary, but still with great power, will ordain men to the sacred priesthood, giving them also the power to channel the Holy Spirit just as their predecessors before them, back through the centuries.
Those hands may not have hauled in the nets of a fishing boat, drawn a sword to defend their master or healed paralytics in the Temple in Jerusalem but they are the hands of a servant of God. They hold the staff of a humble shepherd. They are hands in the employ of Christ.