The parson, with the ceramic chalice in hand, stepped from behind the altar table and headed down to the front of the chancel. Mark, the twelve-year-old who was assisting him this Sunday, took his place beside the parson, resplendent in his white robe. With a nod of the parson's head to the person on the aisle seat of the front right pew, the congregants on that pew rose and proceeded in line to receive the bread and wine.
Mark, with the bread, surrounded by the white linen cloth, held tightly in hand, awaited the first one to approach. He'd learned to be prepared because some took a small pinch of the bread while others with much gusto tore off what in less sacred circumstances would be considered a chunk. And the parson, as each approached softly intoned the words, so praciticed thorugh four decades of ministry, he could recite the phrases so that each thought he was speaking to them and them alone: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; take and eat; do this in remembrance; Christ died for you.”
For some reason on this particular celebration of the Lord's Supper, the parson, while intoning the words, became fascinated with the hands of those who received the gift of bread and wine. He watched intently as each tore off or pinched away or gently removed a portion of bread that Mark offered and then stepped in front of the parson to dip the bread into the juice. The hands. The fingers. Both so symoblic of the gathered.
There were gnarled fingers, indicative of long hours of physical labor on the farm, fingers adept at clenching with great force the reins that would impel the cow or horse into the designated stall, fingers that while marred by years of labor could deftly milk utters with the same practiced movement as a skilled masseur.
There were delicate fingers, long, long delicate fingers, seemingly capable of spaning two or three octatives on a piano keyboard, fingers that defied the ravages of life and in their unique delicacy gave witness to the finer things of living.
There were hands punctuated by the blue bruised fingernails of a carpenter who despite years of experience lapsed in concentration and suffered the indiginity of a hammer blow, fingers that gave witness in their swolleness to the fluent vocabulary of the owners painful shout.
There were tiny fingers, uncertain of how much to pull from the loaf, fingers that seemed unsure in their intent, fingers that heistated until the owner's eyes had looked into Mama's for confirmation that all was being done well, fingers that with relish dipped the bread into the juice and smiled at the atnicipated sweet taste.
There were aged aged and wrinkled hands with fingers giving witness to the ravages of age, fingers that moved in cadance with the stooped and halting movement of the rest of the body to which they were attached, but fingers that had partaken of this bread and this juice so many times their heistation was only witness of reverence and not age.
There were manicured fingers, fingers with nails shaped and polished at expensive botiques, fingers that reflected one's personal care and attention to grooming.
There were long nails, short nails, stubby digits, large knuckles, small knuckles, calloused palms and lotion softened ones. There were fingers that gently touched Mark's hand in appreciation for his presence, or his innocence, or his participation. There were hands whose index and middle fingers were stained an orange/yellow color whispering of a lifetime of struggle with nicotine. There were calloused palms and lotion softened ones. There were hands that shook with infirmity and hands that shook in the presence of that which is holy. The hands, the fingers, all so different and all telling the story of the diversity of the parson's congregation.
When the day was over, when Mark was home playing a video game, when the evening Bible study had concluded, and the parson sat back on his couch with Charlie Brown, his faithful canine companion curled at his side, he thought back on the hands and fingers he'd seen that day.
Hands and fingers are wonderful things. The parson remembered the delicate touch of his mother's hand brushing back the hair from his forehead; the sting of his daddy's hand making contact with his butt as well as his daddy's hands cupped around his to show him how to grip the baseball bat. He remembered the jolting explosion of pain when his neighbor and boyhood friend slugged him in the face. He remembred the feel of his fingers entwined with those of his first sweetheart so long, long ago. He remembered the hands of his Mama folded on her Bible as she whispered some life lesson to him. Hands. Fingers. So reflective of who we are. The parson shivered as he remembered her nails scratching his back.
Hands. Fingers. They witness who we really are.