by the feet
Maybe it’s my age. Or the ever-present reality of death in our media-saturated world. I’m grateful for these sonnets. Good Friday invites me to consider death with my eyes wide open.
March 21 and 22
O Lord, when I do think of my departed,
I think of thee who art the death of parting;
Of him who crying Father breathed his last,
Then radiant from the sepulchre upstarted.—
Even then, I think, thy hands and feet kept smarting:
With us the bitterness of death is past,
But by the feet he still doth hold us fast.
Therefore our hands thy feet do hold as fast.
We pray not to be spared the sorest pang,
But only—be thou with us to the last.
Let not our heart be troubled at the clang
Of hammer and nails, nor dread the spear’s keen fang,
Nor the ghast sickening that comes of pain,
Nor yet the last clutch of the banished brain.
George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul,
© 1994 Augsburg Fortress Press
Here, and in an earlier entry (March 18), MacDonald thinks again about the four children he has lost to death. He longs to be with them. He believes no one where they are now can possibly love them as he does.
Yet as great as that love is, he would “die of grief to love you only so.” That is, from afar; from this side of death.
This means he has to face his own death. He notes that his Lord (Jesus) is “the death of parting.” This gives him hope; the distance between him and his children will end someday.
He imagines that the resurrection, as wonderful as it was, still left Jesus with pain in his hands and feet. The bitterness of death has been taken away, yet “by the feet he still doth hold us fast”—with his “smarting” hands. Death isn’t the last word; it is, however, painful. It leaves scars.
Because of this, MacDonald vows to hold Jesus’ “smarting” feet just as fast. Tightly. As though glued to each other. Inseparable. Only in this way can he imagine making the journey from this world to the place where his children have gone. He knows the journey isn’t light or easy. He knows he can’t make it alone.
He also seems to know that this holding fast to each other’s feet isn’t of equal strength. His intent is good and true. Yet his holding is entirely dependent on the strong, scarred hands of Jesus holding him. Lest his feet stray from the path.
Jesus has been through his death. MacDonald’s four children have been through their deaths. MacDonald knows he won’t make it through his own death unless Jesus holds his feet “to the last.”
“But by the feet he still doth hold us fast.”
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© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 Friday 2015