“Feet of Christ”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

May 28, 2017

Luke 24:36-53


Picture this.

Golden light is pouring down from the sky like a waterfall.

At the edges of the scene, big, dramatic clouds are gathering, dark like thunderheads.

The disciples are together, out on a lonely hillside on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  Three of them are down on their knees.  Two have fallen flat on their faces on the ground.  The others stand, huddled together, gazing up at the sky with their mouths hanging open.

There, above their heads, just out of reach, dressed in white robes, arms outstretched, hair blowing in the swirling wind, is Jesus.  He gazes down at them, smiling.  They watch him as he rises higher and higher into the clouds… and then he’s gone.

This is the classic image of the ascension, the end of the scripture reading we heard this morning, which is the very end of Luke’s gospel.  Jesus led his disciples out of the city, and blessed them, and was raised up into heaven.  Tradition tells us that it happened 40 days after Easter—which means that this past Thursday was Ascension Day.

Through the centuries, the ascension has been a favorite subject for artists of the Christian tradition.  It is portrayed more times than you can count in paintings and sculptures and stained glass windows.  You may have seen some of these portrayals in museums or cathedrals.  A quick Google search will turn up a wide array of images—Rembrandt, and Dali, and Garofalo, and Perugino, and so many others.

If you scan through these images, you’ll notice that many of them seem to draw your attention to Jesus’ feet.  Indeed, some images of the ascension only show Jesus from the knees down, or even from the ankles.  The artists seem to be attempting to capture the very last glimpse the disciples got of him, the final image they could hold in their memories.  In the artists’ imaginations, it was this—the soles of his feet, the tips of his toes.

In some portrayals, Jesus’ feet appear to be whole and perfect.  In others, they bear the marks of the nails that held him to the cross.  He is nearly always portrayed as barefoot.  And in just about every image I have seen, those bare feet are clean, almost as though they are fresh from a pedicure.  And I have to say, I just don’t buy it.

I am not a painter or a sculptor, but if I were, I would portray Jesus’ feet a little differently, I think a little more realistically.  Perhaps a hangnail or an ingrown toenail.  Perhaps a corn or a bunion or a plantar wart.  Definitely some dirt and some callouses from walking long, hot, dusty miles in open-toed sandals.

Because here’s what I love about the ascension, and here’s what we miss with those perfect, pedicured feet.  The ascension is a reminder that every part of Jesus’ experience has been gathered up into God’s own heart.  Which means that every part of your experience, and mine, and every one of our human siblings, has been gathered in, too.

Before the moment of the ascension, as Darlene read for us this morning, Jesus appeared one last time to his disciples, showed them his hands and feet, and shared a meal with them.  Then he reminded them again of all the things he had taught them during his lifetime, including this:  “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise.”

To suffer and to rise.

The Messiah is to suffer—and in his suffering, to share the suffering of all God’s people.

The fear of soldiers sent into battle in faraway places; the pain of those who are wounded in body or in spirit; the grief of those who survive when others do not; every harm inflicted in every war.

The wounds inflicted on men of color whose bodies are seen as threats; the scars borne by women of color whose qualifications are questioned and whose work is taken for granted; the gut-wrenching fear of parents who know that their kids might not make it home alive simply because of the color of their skin.

The spiritual violence suffered by LGBTQ folks whose love is disparaged and whose relationships are maligned.

The constant, grinding ache of living in poverty, not knowing whether you will have food next week or shelter next month.

The throbbing emptiness of absence where a loved one used to be present.

The pain of broken relationships… of broken promises… of broken bones… of broken hearts.

Every hurt, every fear, every pain, every suffering known to humankind, gathered up in the suffering of God’s love made flesh.

The Messiah is to suffer—but not only that.  The Messiah is also to rise.  And in his rising, to prove that suffering does not have the last word—love does.  War does not have the last word—peace does.  Oppression does not have the last word—justice does.  Exclusion does not have the last word—welcome does.  Poverty does not have the last word—plenty does.  Grief does not have the last word—hope does.  Loss does not have the last word—healing does.  Death does not have the last word—life does.

The Messiah is to suffer and to rise—and then he is to ascend, and in ascending, to lift every teardrop, every wound, every iota of our suffering into God’s very heart.  Because on that dramatic day on a hillside on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Jesus’ feet were not scrubbed and trimmed and filed and perfect.  His body was not washed clean of all the dirt, all the wounds, all the scars and wrinkles he had accumulated in his time on earth.  He carried it all with him.  He carries us all with him.  And he reminds his disciples yet again—he reminds us yet again—that even the muddiest messes in which we find ourselves are not foreign to God.

And here’s the thing.  After the Ascension, Jesus was no longer present in the flesh here on earth—but ten days later, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles.  And by the power of that abiding Spirit, the community of Jesus-followers became the Body of Christ.  You and I and all of us—we are the body Christ has on earth now.

And if we are to truly embody our identity as the Body of Christ, then we also must get our feet dirty.  Our call to be the Body of Christ is not a call to remain secluded here in the safety and beauty of a sanctuary on Woodstock Hill.  It is a call to immerse ourselves in the mess and muddiness of this world.  It is a call to go wherever injustice wounds any of God’s children, and bring liberation.  It is a call to go wherever violence threatens any of God’s children, and bring peace.  It is a call to go wherever hatred denies the humanity of any of God’s children, and bring love.  It is a call to go wherever greed prevents the thriving of any of God’s children, and bring justice.  It is a call to go wherever there is suffering in any form, and bring resurrection.  It is a call to bring healing to this earth, and in so doing, to bring healing to God’s own heart.  It is a call to take part in the sometimes dirty, often inglorious work of transforming this world into the Realm of God.

When the day comes for us, too, to be raised into glory in the very heart of God, may our feet be like those of our Messiah, dirty and calloused—and all the more beautiful because of it.


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