From Be Thou My Breastplate
Let the work of the church of God be in these hands. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
Fursa does not say “on these lips.” How often Christians have seen themselves as heralds of God’s kingdom only, announcing its presence, rather than as workers of God’s kingdom bringing it into our world by God-given works. The Apostle Paul reminds us “The kingdom of God is not a matter of words.” What then is this work for our hands?
Hands speak of helping others; helping the least in order to help Christ. This is Jesus’s call in Matthew 25. Hands speak also of hospitality and healing. Saint Luke the Physician shows us in his Gospel (the tenth chapter) that it is when we have blessed, dined with, and brought healing to a person’s life that we can turn to them and truly say, “The kingdom of God has come to you.”
It is with the “finger of God” that Jesus declares deliverance from evil spirits to be achieved. “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out unclean spirits,” he said, “then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” God’s hand truly sets people free.
Hands speak of giving. The same Gospel reminds us that it is as we give to others that God will give to us. Hands speak also of praying; praying for others. “I would that all men everywhere lift up holy hands for kings and rulers,” says the great apostle. He means lift up “in prayer.” For Fursa, these activities of hospitality, healing, helping, deliverance, giving, and praying were all of a piece. All were elements of his life in community.
Since the physical life of his communities depended on farming, Fursa’s hands also had to be set to plows, scythes, harnesses, yokes; to milking, flaying, tanning, and threshing – all the work of a monk’s hands. The shelters in which Fursa and his brethren lived called upon hands to be put to building, with stone, thatch, timber, wattle, and nails. A monk of the dark ages was no soft-skinned aesthete, sheltered away with his books. A brother in a Celtic monastery was a worker. So the hands that were laid on the sick, or that distributed alms to the poor; the hands that anointed, invoked the blessing of God or cast out evil spirits; the hands that handled holy books, copied the sacred words of Scripture and lifted themselves to God in prayer; these were the heavy, rough-cast hands of a working man.
Do not think that Fursa’s prayer is given to invoke a gentle life of ease; of comfortable, abstract contemplation. Don’t have that idea in mind when you pray it. Rather have in mind what practical thing God might have you do today. “Let the work of the church of God be in your hands.”