My favourite images of the Ascension of the Lord, celebrated on Thursday for at least 16 centuries – Thursday, not Sunday – are those charming medieval illuminations wherein the astonished Apostles gaze with Mary upward at the last glimpse of Our Lord’s feet just as they disappear into the cloud of heavenly glory. Benedict XVI commented on Christ’s fleeting feet:
Here we could reflect that we come as worshippers, following his trail, close to his footsteps. Praying, we go to him; praying, we touch him, even if in this world, so to speak, always only from below, only from afar, always only on the trail of his earthly steps. At the same time it becomes clear that we do not find the footprints of Christ when we look only below, when we measure only footprints and want to subsume faith in the obvious. The Lord is movement toward above, and only in moving ourselves, in looking up and ascending, do we recognise him.
The lowest part of Him was the last, highest thing of Him they saw. Condescension and glory seem to meet in His feet.
In His earthly life, Christ’s feet were dirty by the dirt whence we were drawn into being. They were washed with tears. They were shattered with spike and mallet, only to shine later with impassibility, subtly, agility and brightness. He associated His priests’ feet with His own when He washed those of the Apostles. He showed them that, as Augustine explained, they would have to dirty their feet in His service, that this world’s muck would get on them. Nevertheless, they shouldn’t fear getting grimy in fulfilling the Great Commission to teach and to baptize.
Speaking of the Great Commission, it’s a daunting responsibility to be sure. St John Chrysostom (d 407) gives us pointers about our vocations (Homily on Matthew 90.2)
He promised to be not only with these disciples but also with all who would subsequently believe after them. Jesus speaks to all believers as if to one body. Do not speak to me, He says, of the difficulties you will face, for “I am with you,” as the one who makes all things easy.
We see the path for our feet by looking both downward and upward. His guiding feet are perhaps best viewed also by lowering ourselves back to the ground, particularly when He beats His path to us in Communion.