My late Dad bought me a pair of Grenson shoes for my wedding, solid and sensible footwear. They can be buffed to guardsman standard, but are stiff and inflexible and uncomfortable. I wore them to his funeral in the year after my wedding, and have only worn them when I’m conducting funerals in the fourteen years since. Along with my heavy overcoat and my darkest tie they are kept exclusively for that purpose. Each time I lift them from the shoe rack to polish them before a service of thanksgiving one of my first tasks is to clean the mud from their heels, soil that I have picked up at yet another graveside of a friend and church member.
There is something sad and suggestive and redemptive in this. For me it is symbolic of what happens each time we mark a loss, the end of the life of those we love and esteem. We leave their remains in the opened earth, and we leave their grave with a mark left on us – a mark much more indelible than the superficial stain of old soil on good shoes. We tread ‘the verge of Jordan’ in our own grief or that of others, we come as close to glory as this life allows, and we step away from the place but not the pain of burial.
As human beings all of our heels are marked, we are troubled and broken by mortality, by the inevitable and insistent weight of the curse, the legacy of our first parents’ dalliance with the serpent, sin and disobedience. Walk where we may, run as we might, our heels are marked. While Adam and Eve walked from the garden, they were not unscathed spiritually, morally or physically. We carry our damned humanity with us whether we like it or not, and left to our own devices there is utterly no hope for us.
In the week after Easter Sunday, our joy is that Christ’s resurrection is not the centrepiece of some sentimental Christian festival, but the very hub of our hope and the firstfruits of what will follow for those who have trusted in him. In his earthly life Christ’s heel was horribly marked by coming into our world, and bearing our curse. More than any other member of the human race Jesus felt the sting and burn of Adam’s actions. In his earthly temptation and his penal substitution he took the full weight of his people’s transgressions – his uniquely righteous soul uniquely bearing wrath not his own for our redemption.
But the marking of his heel is a precursor to the extent of his victory. The serpent’s head, raised to ruin the Son of Man, is itself ruined and crushed beneath his foot. This proto-gospel suggested in Genesis 3:15 is gloriously realised in the passion and victory of our Saviour who walks from his own grave in triumph and with promise for those who trust in him.
So I’ll bear this minor mark on my heel from accompanying believers to their graves, but I’ll do so in a keenly conscious and intentionally joyful manner – knowing that Christ has borne this bruising on our behalf, and that the Satan-defeating, serpent-crushing work of the cross and resurrection are ours presently in our grief, and will be ours fully when he comes to end our griefs and glorify our bodies.
‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’ – Genesis 3:15 (ESV)