Feast of the Ascension – May 14, 2015
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
It is like the grand finale… but it isn’t… Jesus has just appeared to the disciples…they were frightened…. He showed him his ands and feet… he had flesh and bones… and then he asked for something to eat… and they gave him a piece of broiled fish. Jesus ate it. Then Jesus gives his final goodbye… “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was with you”… about everything… the law, the prophets, the psalm… and all must be fulfilled. And then, as he had done on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his companion, Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He recounted the arc of the story that had brought him to this moment.. and then he led them out as far as Bethany… lifted up his hands, blessed them, and then he withdrew as he was carried up to heaven… What a scene…
There are many versions of the Ascension depicted in art. Some show a triumphant Jesus in the clouds, radiating light, surrounded by a chorus of heavenly hosts. Some of the more interesting ones show simply the feet of Jesus… I found a medieval illustration that showed some anxious looking disciples with their arms raised upward toward Jesus who is depicted in his robes, from the knees down. The most quirky depiction I have found, that I just heard about this past week, is a ceramic sculpture, mounted to the ceiling, behind the High Alter on the southern side of the Chapel of the Ascension at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England.
There is a circle of silver clouds . From the middle of the circle of clouds hang two pale white pierced feet with rays emanating from the toes. You can just see the hem of Christ’s robe but not even his ankles…just his feet… hanging down from the ceiling… a little bit… as if he had just ascended into the attic. It is an odd piece. Then there is Salvador Dali’s rendition in which there is a powerful perspective in which the view looks not from a distance but right underneath such that the cracks, lines, dirt and fleshiness of Jesus’ feet are right above. One cannot see his head as it is already out of view, but one gets a very good look at the bottom of human feet who have just walked on earth, among us, for a few decades.
Some think that the disciples would be sad to lose Jesus once again… the first time on Good Friday… and once again as he leaves them for good. But, as Jesus was carried up to heaven the disciples worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy… and they were continually in the temple blessing God. What was this about?
Like a good parent, a good teacher, a good mentor, a great nurturer…. Jesus had shown the disciples that there was more…. death was not/ is not… the final word.. he came back and showed them so. But now it was time for Jesus to let the beloved disciples be on their own… to do the work he has given all of us to do… to live out his teachings. Jesus did not leave the disciples comfortless. Just before he ascended Jesus… opened their minds to understand the scriptures…. now the real work was just beginning.
We live in a time in which the movement, the trend, is for quick learning, news in sound bites, bulleted items, short lists… Maybe it is for us to get to work, to do the work of deepening our faith… both by learning and by serving…. It is not enough to open the Bible now and then…. deepening in faith requires time and study… it requires exploration… and digging… and conversation… some good, and joyous investment time and sweat is required if we are to become stronger and healthier in our lives as glad servants if Christ in a community that shares and cares. We are looking up at Jesus’ feet for one last time, now it is for us to be firmly in this world as Christ’s people.
Two more images of feet… at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, at the spot where Abraham is believed to have ascended into heaven, there is, I understand, the remains of Abraham’s foot print. At the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, at the Chapel of the Ascension in Jerusalem there is, the Ascension Rock that is said to contain the right footprint of Christ. This spot has been venerated as the last point on earth touched by the incarnate Christ.
We can go to those holy places… we can contemplate the cosmic mystery surrounding this story of the ascension…. and/or we can get on with the business of discipleship… in worship… in joy… in love for the one who is now gone from our midst.
Alleluia! Here we are!!!