This was my sermon at S Margaret Pattens last year for Asension Day at which the Company celebrated the 300th anniversary of the granting of Livery.
Ascenciones in Corde ‘Liftings up of the Heart.’
Shoes are a sign of the fall. As indeed are all clothes, but perhaps most clearly, shoes. Our shoes are the point at which we are connected to the ground, reminded that we are creatures of the Earth, unable to rise up above the dirt of the earth. Pattenswere an attempt to lift us up over the grime of the streets; they tried to protect our fine shoes, and to keep our feet from becoming smelly – or too smelly. They are quite literally ‘little ascensions,’ raising us up, even if only a little way, above the sorrowful dirt.
The Ascension might at first seem to be an overly literal fable. A rounding off of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus with him disappearing into the sky. If you go to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham you will find in the Chapel of the Ascension a plaster cloud on the ceiling and sticking out of it a pair of plaster feet. All rather silly perhaps and undevotional. No wonder that when Uri Gagarin went into space he came back to declare that having been to heaven he had found God was not there. But to understand the Ascension like that is profoundly to misunderstand.
CS Lewis noted that a novelist writes with imagination and words in order to convey truth through his fiction. God on the other hand writes with history and the material world in order to reveal truth through His creation. The message of the Ascension was apprehended as the sensation of Christ rising up into the sky. But its meaning was not that the Lord was going up or even out, but that because of Christ’s incarnation our human nature is at last redeemed, the fall is undone, and we may thither ascend where He has gone before, to use the powerful words of the prayer book collect.
On the Ascension Day the Christian is taught to remember that we are being raised up by Christ, and, like the apostles who lifted their hearts in worship constantly to be raising our hearts in little ascensions, ascenciones in corde, to use a rather wonderful phrase of Fr George Congreve’s, little ascensions of the heart, allowing them surely there to be fixed were true joys are to be found.
Lift up your hearts
Today is a day for Liverymen of the Pattenemakers to lift up your hearts, celebrating you anniversary. But even as Livery was granted to this Company the clock was ticking on the Pattenmakers trade. Already the Paviours were providing firmer surfaces to streets and roads, and the fashion for raised footwear, high-heeled shoes, with patens fitted upon them, was changing as the Enlightenment quite literally brought everybody back down to earth with the simplicity of flat heels. And as the century progressed the process was only continued and exacerbated by the French revolution. While Patens continued into the mid nineteenth century they went and have not come back. High heels for women began to be fashionable again in the 20th century, even on the dirtiest streets women now receive support from heels rather than patens.
Little liftings up of the heart
But you have kept your Ascension Days and taught the ascensions in corde, the little liftings up of the heart over these three centuries. The undoing of the Fall is not simply a matter of having platforms for our shoes to that we may stand a little above the troubles of the world. As those who have been committed to follow Christ, and Liverymen of other faiths and none will know, true ascension is received as a gift of grace in a context of charity and love and care of others. Livery is not merely a dress for a trading activity but for a charitable one, and Pattenmakers in particular, like liveries in general have shared the proceeds of success with those in need. For this we are most grateful; not so much for the money, though it is crucial, but for the commitment to showing how the selfishness of the Fall is undone in the lifting up of hearts in charity and love, and that at the heart of true wealth creation lies not avarice and greed, but charity and generosity.
This is expressed for Christians in the example Jesus gave when He washed His disciples’ feet. I suppose we could stretch the point and suggest that patterns were an attempt to prevent the necessity of the washing in the first place, or at least to mitigate the amounts of dirt, but that would maybe to try to take the analogy slightly too far.
Nevertheless for Christians, and I would hazard for all people of good will, the habit of little liftings up of the heart beyond ourselves in service of God and neighbour bears fruit in love and joy and peace. In these actions of love the fallen are raised up, and we are lifted a little more towards heaven. The joy which flows from these ascenciones in corde has been a blessing on the Company and its charitable activity through the generations of Masters and Livery, known and unknown, who are recorded in the lists now to be dedicated in this church.
|Pattenmakers Ascension Day Service 2017|
Love and Care of Neighbour
Today the Company expresses love and care of neighbour in the interest that you maintain in education; in young managers within the shoemaking industry, and in the support of provision of orthopaedic shoes for those who need them. Of course in time this also will change, for our needs and our responses to them change and develop with each successive phase of our societies. What does not change is the eternal fact that through Christ’s once for all death and resurrection, salvation has been brought to us and the fall undone, and in his glorious Ascension the gate of heaven has been opened to our human nature so that through His grace lifting up our hearts we may come to share his eternal life. There will doubtless in the future be new ways in which this Company will serve the community, and new Liverymen and Masters will be added to our lists who serve in these new ways. But in what they do, they will simply do what our predecessors have done and we are called to do: Lift up our hearts daily to God and to seek His guidance in how we are to live in love and service of all.