Get used to the artwork on the service folder. Something like it will be written in stone so to speak in our floor. It will be the floor artwork for the Ascension circle. And I like it. While feet are normally not thought of as beautiful these are because of their beautiful feats.
The feet of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, even when He walked the dusty roads of Palestine were beautiful, beautiful enough to bring tears to your eyes. The sinful woman of Luke 7 meant to anoint Jesus' feet with expensive perfume in loving thanks for the many sins He had forgiven her, but when she found herself standing at His feet as He reclined at a banquet, tears spilled out of her eyes.
But that's not all. She hadn't meant to cry, but so deep was her love it struck a well-spring of tears. In response to wetting Jesus' feet with her tears, she did the unthinkable. She let down her hair in public. For any woman to do this in 1st century Palestine would be undignified; for a woman with a reputation as a public sinner it was positively risque. Even in our society which has virtually no social mores attached to hair length or style, most women are protective of their hair. They wouldn't want to wipe feet that were now muddy with their clean hair.
But she doesn't stop here either. She kissed them and not just one little peck but repeatedly she kissed them. So forgetful of herself and so mindful of His forgiving love she kissed the muddy feet of her God and Lord and Savior. And then she perfumed them. Our use of cut flowers in divine service is tied to this. Cut flowers like perfume once given can't be taken back. They indicate a depth of thanks and love in a unique way. Isaiah 60:13 ties together church, flowers, greenery, and God's feet: "The glory of Lebanon will come to you. The pine, the fir and the cypress come together, to adorn the place of My sanctuary; and I will glorify the place of My feet."
Want to know what that kind of love is? Then be forgiven as much as she was. That's where the nail holes come in in our artwork. In Luke 7, Jesus' feet are not yet pierced. But because they will be pierced to pay for sins, in order to nail this woman's sins and yours too to the cross, she can't help but cry over them, and we can't but see them as forever pierced. After the Resurrection, we know they weren't healed wound, scarred wounds, they were open because Jesus invites Thomas to stick his fingers in them. Do that. Here is where your sins have gone: into the nail holes in the body of God never to be seen again.
Feet aren't normally thought of as beautiful but as functional. An Army doesn't just move on its stomach but it's feet. In the Army, you can an Article 15 disciplinary charge for not properly caring for your feet. If you've ever had a bunion, a corn, an ingrown toenail, or gout, you know how something that can't kill you can nevertheless incapacitate you to immobility. But the feet of the Man who is God are worth their weight in nard. We find this out in John 12.
It's the Saturday before Palm Sunday. Jesus is with Mary and Martha. These are the sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead after him being good and dead for 4 days. Lazarus is the brother of the Martha who was anxious and troubled about many things and of Mary who chose the one thing needful Jesus and His Words - which would never be taken from her. Jesus is with them, and Mary takes the very expensive oily resin used in burial and pours it on Jesus' feet and uses her hair to wipe His feet. This pure nard was by Judas the treasurer's estimation worth a year's salary. It was an offering fit not only for a king but for God in the flesh.
That brings us to Feats of Clay. That's feats, f-e-a-t-s. It's the name of the Austin studio that sculpted our 500th anniversary steins. Well Jesus has feet of clay, which historically is a figure of speech meaning weakness, but because His feet are the feet of God, He does incredible feats with them. You know how with newborns, you study their feet? Study these feet. Walk a mile in His shoes because He walked 500 miles in your feet. He's took the walk you're walking now. He's not just been in your shoes but in your very feet. All the commands, demands, requirements, and regulations God gave to men, Jesus followed step by step, never missing a one. He's walked the streets of Bakersfield, in the Smokey Mountain rain, and through the pain of death, heartache, betrayal, and hatred.
And Jesus did it all without sinning, not once, not a little. A profanity didn't slip from His lips let alone come to His mind. Yet His Father gave His holy feet over into the hands of Satan, of sinners, and they nailed them to a cross where God damned them to an eternity of hell. All of this happened for us and our salvation. And now look where those feet are? Look at the artwork. Isn't that genius? They "have slipped the surly bonds of earth" to dance "the skies on laughter-slivered wings." See those very human feet are being received into the cloudy presence of God and know that when Jesus puts out His hand to touch the face of God, He's touching His own.
The Epistle says, "God put all things under His feet." Psalm 110 records the Father words to the ascended Son, "Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet." Ascension is the celebration that a Man has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Other men don't like this. Psalm 2 says that they rise up, band together, and plot against the Lord's Christ. We've been schooled to do the same by English Catholic politician Lord Acton's 19th century adage, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Well, if that is true, what does it say about the all-powerful Man Jesus? No, Russian dissent Alexander Solzhenitsyn got it right, "Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty" (Gulag, II, 546). His adage sounds the warning about technologies enabling limited people to have unlimited ability to track information, movement, and associations. The ascended, pierced feet of Jesus, however, testify that the One who has absolute power over heaven and earth is on our side doing feats in feet of clay like ours.
The artwork depicts Jesus' feet about to be forever visibly gone from this earth till they descend again on the Last Day, but we want to hold on to those feet forever and a day. We want to as they say "throw ourselves at His feet" for mercy or grab on to them in supplication. The women tried to do this on Easter morning. Matthew tells us that when the women first saw the risen Jesus, "They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him." Mary Magdalene was most emphatic. She addresses Him as God and evidently holds on for dear life for Jesus says, "Don't hold on to Me." Their desire, to have and to hold the visible Jesus, is expressed in the 1913 song "In the Garden" and the 1999 song "I Can Only Imagine." In the former, the author has Jesus walking and talking with Him. In the latter the author, "can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by your side." The same urge is behind the 1939 poem "Footprints" written either by a 14-year-old or a 6-year-old. All of us want to see Jesus visibly with us.
I get that; the women on Easter certainly did, but there go the pierced, holy feet of Jesus "up, up and away" to infinity and beyond. But not beyond our reach. Jesus tells Mary to stop holding on to Him "because I have not yet returned to the Father." That tells her and us that once He returns to the Father He can be held on to, but not like before. Before it was Jesus walking and talking with her by her side in Galilee and on the treks to Jerusalem. Before it was Jesus making footprints in the sand alongside of hers as they walked the shores of Galilee. But not anymore, and that's a good thing because that was a limited thing. While Jesus was walking and talking and foot-printing beside Mary Magdalene, He couldn't be with the sinful woman forgiving her sins or with Mary raising her dead brother. The Church has shown this great change by snuffing the Christ candle on Ascension.
He's no longer present here the way He once was. C. S. Lewis illustrates this in a negative way. After losing the Joy of his life he says that he found out personally what bereaved people have always reported. "'The ubiquitous presence of a dead man, as if he had ceased to meet us in particular places in order to meet us everywhere'" (Grief Observed, 148). This is an onerous, teary thing for Lewis grieving the loss of his wife. For us, the Ascended Jesus is a beautiful, comforting, satisfying thing. Jesus has ceased to meet individuals in gardens or beaches to meet us everywhere, but here's the difference. He does meet us everywhere but in particular places. And all of Him does. Not just His feet but His hands, head, His body, His soul, His divinity and humanity are in every drop of Baptism's Water on your body, in every syllable of Absolution's words in your ears, and in Communion in every drop, He gives you His Blood for Wine, in every crumb He gives you His Body for Bread.
But neither Luther nor the early church ignored the fact that the pierced feet of Jesus though invisible here are visible in heaven. Early church fathers said when we sinned and God's wrath was about to break out against us, the Son leapt to His feet and showed His nail-pierced body saying, "Remember Father I died for them." Luther is just as graphic saying, "Christ did not merely take our guilt upon Himself one time only and pay with His suffering' for us. He comes forward daily for us before God as a faithful, merciful intermediary, savior, and unique priest and bishop of our souls.' Because He offers and shows His body and bloodbefore God daily, on our behalf, we may obtain grace'" (Peters, Creed, 195).
The feet of Jesus still walk today the halls of our lives in the Words and Sacraments He left us. But those feet, nail holes and all, are visible in heaven testifying to the Father that our feet are forgiven and all ready to walk the halls of heaven. And that's a beautiful feat. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ascension Sunday (20180513)