Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
A present tied with a bow. An ice cream sundae with a cherry on top. A Birthday card with $20 inside. A cold beer in an ice frosted glass! The last little detail that makes an experience just that much better! This is our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. 40 days after Easter our Lord Jesus ascends bodily up into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, as we confess in the creed. But why? What’s the deal with our Lord’s Ascension? Why does it matter? In the words of Martin Luther, “what does this mean?”
Well, it truly is the maraschino cherry on top of the ice cream! It’s the finishing touch of Easter where our Lord rises to life after defeating death and crushing Satan. “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (LK 24:50-51). That’s it. That’s all of what St. Luke has to tell us about the event. St. Mark also tells us that “the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (16:19). Boom. That’s it. That’s all. A little cherry of a detail. And yet it is super delicious and an integral part to our Lord’s life, ministry and mission.
Last Sunday we celebrated God’s gift of Mothers on Mother’s Day. And all of our mothers know that you eventually encounter moments where your kids have to spread their wings and do things by themselves. The day you took the training wheels off the bike. The first day of Kindergarten. The first sleep over at a friend’s house. The driver’s license. The day they left for University. The day you gave them $20 bucks and suitcase and evicted them from your basement! The day must come. You’ve taught them and cared for them and now it’s time to let them go. For 3 long years Jesus taught His hand picked and chosen disciples. He taught them. He mentored them. He changed their lives. He allowed them to witness miracle after miracle, wonder after wonder!
And now, the time has come. Our Lord’s fledgling church will spread her wings. His disciples will continue to do and teach what our Lord Jesus showed them for 3 years. Even though He must depart, He doesn’t abandon them to their task of preaching “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (LK 24:47) into all the world and Baptizing in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. No. Instead, He promises them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them in 10 days time at Holy Pentecost. But first, He must leave them and return to the Father.
But we notice a key thing about our Lord’s Ascension. He never points at the disciples - or us - to direct them to their own strength and power. ‘Just dig deep guys, pull yourself up by the bootstraps and be self-made!’ is a message that Jesus never says. This would be a message of the world. Be Scrooge McDuck swimming in your mass fortunes that you gained all by yourself without any help from anybody else! It’s all about you and what you do. This is not the message of the Gospel. Instead, we have a message of presence. This is the whole point of our Lord’s Ascension into Heaven. God with us. Emmanuel. The name sake of our congregation. God will be with His people. Just as He was with Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness, as He was with Elijah and Elisha the prophets, as He was with King David and the dynasty of Judah. Christ Jesus our Lord became flesh and dwelt among us so that we will know that He is always with us now and to the end of the age. We are forever reliant on Him and His presence to get through this earthly life and reach our heavenly home.
This is a really great promise for us. Jesus gave His disciples (and us) confidence by showing them that the future of the church was not resting on their abilities, their eloquence, or their know how. The future of the church is in His hands, as are we. God will certainly use us and work through us. But the power to do anything in this life comes from and rests with God. Not us. That’s a huge burden off our shoulders! It’s not all about us. It’s all about Christ Jesus our risen and ascended Lord who blesses us and promises a Helper for us.
That Helper comes to us in our Holy Baptism. The Holy Spirit comes to us through the washing of the water and the word. He comes to us each time we open the Scriptures and read them, learn then, mark them, and inwardly digest them! Here we are reminded that nothing is impossible with God. We can live a life of hope and promise because it’s not all about us. It’s not all on our shoulders. The jobs we have, our vocations, the money we make, these are all gifts from God who is the giver of every good and perfect gift.
Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It turned out to be a ten day wait. But they didn’t know that upfront. They had no idea how long they would have to wait on the Lord’s promise. But think of how long Abraham and Sarah waited for the Lord to provide their son of the promise Isaac!? Waiting may sound like an easy thing to do, but it isn’t! Especially if you are a person short on patience. Any of you who have waited for a vacation, a promotion, the ground to dry out or for the rain to finally come, you realize that waiting isn’t all that easy. We’ve been waiting for this ridiculous pandemic to be over for a good long while now too! It hasn’t been easy. The disciples too were in a dilly of a pickle after our Lord’s ascension. They were in constant danger of persecution and death from the Jews. They needed God’s power just to survive and endure in the face of hatred and unbelief. All they could do is wait for the Lord and it wasn’t easy.
All to often in our day and age people refuse to wait on the Lord’s promises and power. They may come for Baptism, Confirmation or maybe even a wedding or a funeral – but that’s it. They can’t be bothered to take part in the life of the church. They won’t attend. They won’t come to bible study. And instead they continue to make life all about themselves. Until the hard times come. Cancer. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Terrorism. Pandemics. Then it’s panic mode! Then it’s time to pray! Then it’s time to seek God’s help and power! God is always waiting for us. But are we willing to wait for Him?
It is often in these situations of waiting where we see God’s tremendous power and grace for us in all things. It can be difficult, but we are reminded that Christ is risen and ascended. The battle, the war, they are already won. And so we wait. Not alone as orphans but together as God’s children. And together with Christ our Lord. He Ascended that He may be with us, everywhere present and filling all things. The point of our Lord ascending into Heaven is sacramental - the mysterious presence of our Lord with His people, with His church in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. We belong to Christ in our Baptism, a gift the world cannot take away. Our Lord comes to us in His body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine. Here our Lord Jesus is truly present for us and with us. This is where our strength and power and peace and hope and forgiveness and victory are to be found. And we receive all of these gifts and more, together as the Church in our Lord’s house.
It’s odd that in our fast-paced, fast-food world, I much prefer slow food. I don’t mean snails or slugs or some other John the Baptizer type hors d’oeuvres! When I say slow food, I mean BBQ. And this isn’t a propane grill. BBQ is meat that is painstakingly prepared and cooked at low temperatures for hours and hours and hours until it is succulent, smokey and tender! Beef Brisket. Smoked Chicken. Ribs. Pulled Pork. Ooooh baby! And, it must be cooked over charcoal and wood to be authentic. I often look at those charcoals burning brightly in my grill all warm and delightful. Each individual coal helps one another stay warm and glowing until the fire is more than the sum of its parts. If I were to reach in and take one charcoal out and leave it by itself, that beautiful glowing red colour would soon fade. The fire would start to smoulder as the individual coal would grow colder and colder until finally, its gone.
Faith is exactly like this. When we live apart from God and apart from each other, we are this lone charcoal. It cannot continue to fire itself apart from the others. Likewise for us. We need to be together, relying on God’s power and promise. This is why our Lord Jesus ascends, in order that the Holy Spirit may come to fan into flame the way of truth, life and salvation. Our Lord ascends that He may be present with us always. We rest on His promise and His power now and forevermore.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!