Today we commemorate Charles Henry Brent, who in 1902 was called from a slum parish in Boston to serve as Missionary Bishop of the Philippines, arriving on the same ship as William Howard Taft, the territorial Governor and future President. Brent’s missionary vision was evident in his sustained commitment to minister to those at the margins, his work toward ecumenical unity among churches, and his pastoral oversight as a bishop. A much loved prayer written by Brent is now one of the prayers for mission in the Book of Common Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. (BCP:101)
Through our small hands, his great arms of love still reach out to embrace the world, and touch everything within it. Through our hands those arms of love transform our work and our play, so that small activities and projects become part of his greater and divine work of love.
Not just through the hands of the priest who reaches out to hold a baby at the font, but also through the hands of a neonatal nurse who tends a newborn in the hospital; the hands of a teacher who writes a supportive comment on a young students worksheet, and a parent who tucks a child into bed at night.
The Lord of glory stretches out arms of love through the hands of painters who help us see light, the hands of poets who put down patterns of words to help us perceive what is true, and the hands of musicians who express harmonies rooted in a beauty more profound than we can create by ourselves.
I hope you see glimpses of those great arms of love at work through your hands.
(Shown above is John Singer Sargent’s bronze casting of a plaster study he did (around 1900) in preparation for his mural series at the Boston Public Library. Both the Hirshorn Museum in Washington and the Tate in London have examples.)