6.1.14 Jesus and his feet
7 Easter A2014 June 1, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We are in that weird time between the Ascension of Jesus, which we observed last week and read about in today’s first reading—and the day of Pentecost, which we observe next week.
In past years I’ve found this Sunday really hard to preach, and that’s not helped at all by our difficult and heady passage from John’s gospel. So today I’m going to stress not the esoteric things but the very concrete ones, in hopes that we’ll be able to relate to them better.
And so, in this vein, we’re going to talk about feet. Yes, feet.
Did you notice how today’s bulletin cover picture shows Jesus ascending into the clouds? This is the event, of course, that formally ends his life on the earth. He’s been resurrected and he hung around a good 40 days with his disciples to complete teaching them all about life after his departure. They’re given the time between his resurrection and his final departure to adjust to the new reality—following a risen Lord in a new metaphysical order. Jesus reminds them during these 40 days how much he loves them and how they are to love and care for one another. He charges them to continue doing his work, even after his absence. He lays the groundwork for the early church.
And then it’s time for him to leave and to return to the existence he knew before—in perfect union with the Father and the Spirit. He reassures his followers that they won’t be alone, though. They’ll be given, at some future time, the gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell within them, and never depart, for all their lives.
So, let’s go back to the bulletin cover now. I LOVE this image for lots of reasons. The colors are nice on the original—they’re primarily pastel greens and yellows and slates. The work looks primitive. I love the cloud at the top made of water—the ancients thought there were waters above the earth—and they weren’t too far off when we realize that clouds are essentially condensed water vapor. I love how we see just the very tops of the heads and haloes of the disciples.
But the feet. I love those feet. And the footprints under them. Aren’t they great? One person calls this depiction comical or quaint. I prefer “whimsical” myself.
But then it gets really interesting when we realize that there are lots of paintings and stained glass windows that show the Ascension, and many of them show the lower part of Jesus’ legs – and they feature his bare feet poking out of a cloud. All you have to do is Google-image “Ascension feet” and you get lots of hits of interesting footsy artwork.
Yesterday many of us were at Trinity Church in Newtown for a splendid Confirmation service. And their stained glass window over the altar was of Jesus ascending. And, yes, his feet were bare.
Feet. What’s the big deal here?
Think about this a minute. Jesus is going up to “heaven,” into the presence of the Father and the Spirit, wherever or whatever that might be. And he’s going there in his BODY. He’s taking his human body with him. His feet. With nail marks in them. They’re going into the heart of the presence of God. They belong there. They have a place there. Jesus and his body. Jesus and his feet.
And so let’s think about feet for a minute. As summer comes we’ll have plenty of reminders that our feet can get sweaty and a little stinky sometimes. They pick up all kinds of dust and grit as we wear sandals in the dry spells of summer. They can get calluses or corns or bunions – sometimes all three on the same foot -- and these things can make our feet look weird. They can hurt and ache sometimes.
In the NT Jesus acknowledges that the feet are not as “worthy” a part of the body as other parts. Remember how he washed the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper, much to the consternation of Peter? And remember how every year here at church it’s only a handful of folks who will allow other people to see their feet, to touch them, and to wash them on Maundy Thursday? It’s funny, really: we aren’t usually very comfortable with our feet.
In a few places in the Old Testament it seems that the feet are mentioned as a euphemism for the genitals. And we really are uncomfortable with those parts of our bodies, it seems. Ask me later if you want and I can share a couple of Bible stories where feet are used euphemistically.
So, long story short, feet may symbolize the parts of our bodies that we’re least comfortable with. And here all this art makes it plain that Jesus’ feet are going to heaven. And Jesus is completing the sanctification of what was made in the Creation and called very good. Even the feet. Even the other parts we hide. One of the ancient church fathers, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (a little town in modern-day Turkey) said that “what was not assumed was not redeemed”. In other words, Jesus taking his human body to the Father completed the redemption of humankind in body, soul, and mind.
In the words of our closing hymn at the 10:00 today: “Determined, dared, and done.”
Suzanne Guthrie reflects that Jesus ascending bodily into the clouds completes the cycle: the Word was made flesh. And then the flesh was made Word as he returned bodily into the heavenly realms. [www.edgeoftheenclosure.org for 7 Easter A].
His humanity and his divinity will remain linked forever.
And we are the beneficiaries, of course, of this redemptive cycle. By virtue of Jesus’ taking HIS flesh to the Father, we also are taken with him into the Father’s presence. We are also made holy, consecrated forever, swelling in him // and he in us, in the words of one of the prayers we use at 8:00.
Now, I know plenty of people who struggle with this idea. So many of us can be paralyzed spiritually by the disease called unworthiness. We cannot even imagine that he’s living in us now. We can’t imagine that we are worthy enough for that.
I remember having that feeling—that extreme unworthiness—the first time I was a chalice minister in my first Episcopal Church, and put on a white alb. I felt like a fraud. Like a real fish out of water.
But in time I came to see that we’re all frauds of one sort or another. Jesus knows it. And he has wiped the slate clean. He’s made us worthy, because we couldn’t do it alone.
So the next time a wave of that old feeling of “I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy. I’m a fake. I’m a fraud” hits me or you, let’s please remember that he’s made us clean. He’s made us genuine. He’s forgiven us and accepted us into his divine life, WITH our feet and all the things they stand for.
The 4th Century church father Athanasius said that “God became human so that humans could become divine.” Ponder that one. It’s really profound. Open your heart and soul to Jesus, who is united in mystical love with the others in the Trinity. Open to him who lives in us and we in him. Open to the divine portal to the life of the Godhead, which we may access through both our souls and our bodies.