While Jesus was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
In the Ascension Chapel at Walsingham, a sculpted cloud on the ceiling has two feet hanging from it. Two wounded feet are seen in frozen animation, held there in the sculpture while the rest of the body is hidden from view. With the scars of the wounds on the feet, the observer is left in no doubt that these are the feet of the crucified and risen Christ, the physical body of Christ no longer present as he has ascended – or is ascending – to heaven.
The thought of Jesus as ‘ascended’ can cause us some difficulties. The term comes into our Christian vocabulary through the Anglicization of the Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate, while in the Greek both Luke and Acts suggest Jesus was ‘carried’ or ‘lifted’ up to heaven. Perhaps we hear the echo of John’s gospel (3.14 & 12.32) where Christ will be lifted up – glorified – so that all people may see God’s work in the world. Ascension transports Jesus to the place of glory where, lifted up, the wounded human body becomes at one with the divine.
But without motion, it’s unclear whether the feet in the sculpture are going up or coming down. Is Jesus disappearing from view, never to be seen again, or returning to be among us? Or are we, as observers, to be reminded that the ascension of Christ to heaven does not absent us from the duties of Christian discipleship? Perhaps instead of being the last sight of a saviour who has left humanity behind, they remind us of the journey our feet need to take as we walk the way of Christ’s disciples, that we too may live as crucified with him, our risen and ascended Lord.
God of the world, as you were lifted up to heaven, help us not to look for you in the clouds but to live as your faithful disciples. Give us the courage to walk your way and to be crucified for your sake, as we look towards the glory of your divinity around us, in the Church and the world. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Matthew Prevett, Minister, St Andrew’s URC, Monkseaton and Northern Synod.