Saturday, April 15, 2017

Grabbing His Feet

Matthew 27:62-28:10
Easter Sunday
April 16, 2016
William G. Carter

So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Happy Easter, everyone!

In our Gospel lesson, we hear all the necessary information about Easter: the women are the first to go to the tomb, they discover the stone has been rolled away, they hear the witness of the angel: “Do not be afraid; he has been raised, go and tell!” They depart from the tomb with the same mixed feelings that any of us would have. In Matthew’s version of the story, Jesus appears to them and greets them. It’s Easter. He goes to the people who love him.

But just then, Matthew reports a most unusual detail. The two women “took hold of his feet.” What?

After all, the Gospel writers leave plenty of other details out. They don’t mention the hour. They don’t even tell the specific location of the tomb. Matthew is the only one who mentioned that the angel came and rolled away the stone, which caused a great earthquake. Like the other Gospel writers, Matthew leaves some details out and fills in some others. Why did they mention that they “took hold of his feet?”

At a human level, I would guess they didn’t want to lose him again. They had stood at his side on that terrible day of crucifixion (27:56). They had endured the agony of watching him in agony. They heard the taunts of the crowd and the cries of the victims. When he breathed his last breath, they felt the earth shake under their feet. Then they watched silently as Joseph of Arimathea placed him in his own tomb and rolled the great stone into place. They wept so hard they had no more tears.

Now Jesus was back somehow. He stands before them and speaks to them. They grab his feet. “We’re not ever going to let go.” I can understand that, although every embrace must conclude. We have to let go. The car is packed and the motor is running; one last hug and goodbye. The plane is boarding, and there is final embrace. The one we love is in the hospital bed, and the moment comes when we must finally let go of his hand.

And the women take hold of his feet. His feet. Why his feet?

Matthew doesn’t talk a lot about feet in his book. Well, a couple of times maybe. When Jesus was busy healing in Galilee, great crowds of people had come. And it says they brought all the sick people, “laid them at his feet, and he healed them (15:30).” It’s a place of availability.

It’s also a place of authority. When Jesus disputed the religious teachers, he quoted a Psalm about the king’s coronation and it shut down the argument. The verse was from Psalm 110: “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’” That’s the Old Testament verse most quoted by the New Testament. The verse was used to explain the resurrection. All the enemies of God, including death, would be put under the Lord’s feet.

But these women are friends, not enemies. And they grab his feet. Why do they do that?

The Bible scholars have their opinions. Dale Bruner, the Presbyterian, says this is evidence of a bodily resurrection.[1] The Risen Christ is not a ghost. Resurrection is not a vacuous, ethereal, non-event. True spirituality has to do with the body. There’s a physical reality to Easter. This is not a dream.

So the Gospel of Luke says the Risen Christ appears to the frightened disciples to say, “Do you have anything to eat?” Then he eats some fish (Luke 24:41-43). According to John, Jesus shows up to Doubting Thomas and says, “Put your fingers right here in the nail holes (20:27).” So here, the women grab his feet. Jesus is risen in flesh and blood. Divine, yes – and human.

And then there’s the opinion of Father Raymond Brown. The Catholic scholar reminds us of the obvious: grabbing someone’s feet is a sign of affection.[2]  These two women loved their Lord. This is how they showed it. That’s true enough and appropriate for Easter.

But let’s not forget that the feet are part of someone’s personal space. The Bible says that in some of its stories, but I learned that lesson first from my father.

My dad was outgoing and affectionate, but he guarded his body space. I saw his bare feet only once. He had decided to push a lawn mower along the side of a hill. The mower slipped and ended up trimming the soles of his work boots. So when I went to visit, his opening fatherly line was, “This is why we always wear work boots when we are mowing the lawn.” I wanted to ask (but didn’t dare), “Why were you pushing a mower up a hill?”

Well, there he sat in a living room chair, his legs elevated and his toes intact. There was a scarlet bandage wrapped around his right foot. He did not want me to touch it. He was embarrassed that I would see it. He was a strong, capable man, yet I remember how vulnerable he looked.

When the Bible says the women grabbed the feet of the Easter Jesus, it points to something far more than mere affection.

Eugene Peterson says it best. He reminds us that the women take hold of his feet because they are worshiping Jesus. Here’s how he says it:

Falling to our knees before Jesus – an act of reverence – is not in itself resurrection worship. Touching and holding the feet of Jesus – an act of intimacy – is not in itself resurrection worship. The acts of reverence and intimacy need one another. The reverence needs an infusion of intimacy lest it become a cool and detached aesthetic. The intimacy needs to be suffused in reverence lest it become a gushy emotion. These women knew what they were doing: They were dealing with God in the living presence of Jesus, and so they worshiped.[3]  

That’s why we are here, and that’s what Easter is: this is the moment when we deal with God in the living presence of Jesus. So we draw near to the authority and availability, to the mystery and the intimacy. And we bring everything that we have and hold dear to the One who is both our Source and Destination, both our savior and friend.

So it is in the name of Christ that I greet you on this day of days. We gather to celebrate a mystery beyond all comprehension and a wonder that we can still touch. So whether or not we understand it all, my invitation to you is that you listen for his voice and grab hold of his feet, and that you trust in your heart that he will never let go of you.

He is risen . . . and he is worthy of worship. Happy Easter!

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] F. Dale Bruner, The Churchbook (Waco: Word Publishing), p. 1084.
[2] Raymond E. Brown, A Risen Christ in Eastertide (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991) p. 31.
[3] Eugene H Peterson, Living the Resurrection (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006) p. 16.

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