Beautiful Hands

A Service of Reflection

In his fine book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen describes how and when he first saw Rembrandt’s painting by that title:

One day I went to visit my friend Simone Landrien in the community’s small documentation center. As we spoke, my eyes fell on a large poster pinned on her door. I saw a man in a great red cloak tenderly touching the shoulders of a disheveled boy kneeling before him. I could not take my eyes away. I felt drawn by the intimacy between the two figures, the warm red of the man’s cloak, the golden yellow of the boy’s tunic, and the mysterious light engulfing them both. But, most of all, it was the hands—the old man’s hands—as they touched the boy’s shoulders that reached me in a place where I had never been before.

When I read Nouwen’s words and saw a print of the painting myself, I was prompted to preach on the hands of God, especially the hands of Christ. I began then to read passages in the gospels that speak about the hands of Jesus, and soon found myself thinking of the song “How Beautiful” by Twila Paris. I wrote several other stanzas to that song to correspond with the Scripture I had been studying. The song was sung by a soloist in the service (see sidebar).

At the conclusion of the first four readings and songs, I gave a brief meditation in which I pointed out that the hands of Jesus were never more beautiful then when they were pierced with nails on the cross.

During the introductory comments we projected Rembrandt’s painting onto the screen so worshipers could see the father’s hands embracing his son. In addition, during the concluding meditation we projected onto the screen “The Crucifixion,” a painting by Matthias Grunewald that shows the gnarled hands of Jesus pinned to the cross.


God’s Greeting


Song of Praise: “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” CH 309, PsH 479, WR 356

Congregational Prayer

Song of Preparation: “Your Hands, O Lord, in Days of Old” PsH 363


The Hands That Healed

Reading: Mark 8:22-25; Matthew 8:1-3

Song: “How Beautiful” st. 1 (sung by soloist)

The Hands That Embraced

Reading: Mark 10:13-16

Song: “How Beautiful” st. 2

The Hands That Rescued

Reading: Matthew 14:22, 25-33

Song: “How Beautiful” st. 3

The Hands That Served

Reading: Mark 14:22-25

Song: “How Beautiful” st. 4

The Hands That Were Nailed

Reading: John 21:24-28


Song: “How Beautiful” st. 5

Prayer of Response

Sung Response: “The Servant King” Maranatha Praise 3, 150


The Hands That Blessed

Reading: Luke 24:50-53


Sung Prayer: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” CH 684, PH 404, PsH 493, WR 500



“How Beautiful”

Text by Henry Admiraal, to be sung to the tune of Twila Paris’s song “How Beautiful.”

  1. How beautiful the hands that reached out
    to heal a blind man and a leper cast out.
    How beautiful those same hands above
    that reach down from heav’n to assure us of love.
    How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful
    are the hands of Christ.
  2. How beautiful the hand that he gave
    to rescue a friend from a watery grave.
    How beautiful the same set of hands
    that lift up the fearful and help them to stand.
    How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful
    are the hands of Christ.
  3. How beautiful the hands that served
    the wine and the bread to his friends on the earth.
    How beautiful his hands that impart
    his body and blood to strengthen our heart.
    How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful
    are the hands of Christ.
  4. How beautiful the hands on that tree
    to pardon our sin and from guilt set us free.
    How beautiful his pierced hands in heaven
    the guarantee that we are forgiven.
    How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful
    are the hands of Christ.
Reformed Worship 86 © December 2007, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.