Reflection for Ascension Day
25 May 2017
Lutheran Church of the Ascension, Mt. of Olives
The Rev. Carrie Ballenger Smith
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
The cross is empty.
The tomb is (still) empty!
And now, Jesus because is ascended into heaven, our world feels a bit empty.
In ten days, on the Feast of Pentecost, this emptiness will be filled with Holy Spirit and with fire. In ten days, we will be empowered for God’s mission and sent into the world.
But now, we are still waiting. Now, we must trust the promise that he will not leave us orphaned, that he is indeed coming to us.
For now, we no longer see Jesus.
We no longer see Jesus—and for this reason, the Ascension is a challenging topic for artists. After all, how would you paint a picture of a Feast of Emptiness anyway? How does one capture the essence of such an in-between moment? One might imagine a painting of a long, empty hallway, with the Ascension on one end and Pentecost on the other, and the disciples, looking lost in the middle.
Of course, many artists have painted the Ascension, and they have not once painted a hallway (as far as I know!) But my favorite images of the Ascension are the ones that portray the disciples standing on the ground, looking up into the skies.
In some of these paintings, up in the sky, poking out from the bottom of a fluffy white cloud, are Jesus’ two feet. Just his feet! Nothing more.
This is so funny to me, to think that the last thing the disciples saw on the Day of Ascension was Jesus’ feet—especially in our context, where it is considered rude to show anyone the soles of your shoes!
Jesus’ feet, flying above the heads of the disciples, is a funny thing to imagine.
But it also makes perfect sense.
It makes sense, because we have read that before he was taken up into heaven, Jesus did not leave the disciples empty-handed:
First, he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
Then he commissioned and blessed them, reminding them that the message of repentance and forgiveness must be taken to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Then he got specific with them, saying, “Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
And then--Jesus did leave the disciples. But he did not leave them empty-handed!
So it makes sense to me that as he was carried up into heaven, he would also give them one last image to contemplate.
before the Spirit arrived,
and before the birth of the Church,
Dust from the roads of Galilee,
Dirt from consorting with sinners,
Callouses from standing with the oppressed,
Blisters from walking in the shoes of the poor,
And the holes:
Holes from the nails which held him on the cross,
Holes from which poured the blood of our salvation.
It seems very fitting to me that the last the disciples saw of the Risen Christ was his dirty, painful, beautiful feet.
I wonder: What if we thought of Ascension not as a feast of emptiness, or a feast of farewell, but as the Feast of Both Feet?
What if we thought of Ascension as the day Jesus’ feet were lifted high above our heads, not because they were being taken from us, but so we could see them clearly?
If we think of the Ascension in this way, then this is the Feast of seeing clearly where Jesus wants his disciples to walk.
This is the Feast of seeing clearly where Jesus wants the church to stand.
This is the Feast of seeing clearly how the church will suffer for doing what is right.
This is the Feast of seeing clearly, once again, just how much Jesus loved us.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, for these next ten days, as we await the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost and the beginning of the church’s ministry, know that we have also not been left empty-handed. We have received the precious gift of time! We have this time in-between to contemplate Our Lord’s feet—where they stood, with whom they walked, and what they suffered, for the sake of this broken world. Let us take full advantage of this gift, committing ourselves to prayer, to singing, to worship, and to joy, as the first disciples did.
And on Pentecost,
when the promised Holy Spirit fills our churches once again,
when we are sent to share the Good News with all nations, beginning in Jerusalem,
I pray that we will be ready:
Ready to jump in, with both feet.
May the peace of Christ which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.