2022-05-29 Ascension Observed
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?
Well, it truly is the 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). And, that’s it. That’s all of what St. Luke has to tell us about the event. St. Mark (16:19) 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.” Boom. That’s it. That’s all. A wee maraschino. And yet it is super delicious and an integral part to our Lord’s life, ministry and mission.
If you are a parent, you’ve no doubt encountered those moments with your children where you have to let them spread their wings. The day you took the training wheels off the bike. The first day of Kindergarten. The first sleep over at a friend’s. The day they left for University. The day you forcibly evicted them out of your basement with pitchforks and torches! You’ve taught them and cared for them and now it’s time to let them go. This is like our Lord’s Ascension. For 3 years Jesus taught the disciples. He mentored them. He changed their lives. He allowed them to witness miracle after miracle, amazing sign after amazing sign!
But now the time has come where Jesus has to let His fledgling church spread its wings. They will continue to teach and to do what Christ Jesus showed them for three years. But He will not let them do this enormous 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 alone. Instead He promises that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them in ten days time at Pentecost. But first He must leave them and return to His Heavenly Father’s throne.
But we notice that Jesus never pointed the disciples – or us – to our own strength and power. This is the message of the world. Be self-made. Be Scrooge McDuck swimming in your mass fortunes gained all by yourself with no help from anybody else! It’s all about you and what you do. But that is never the message of the Gospel. Instead, God would always be with His people. Just as He was with Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness, with Elijah and Elisha the prophets, with King David and the dynasty of Judah. Christ Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us so that we will know He is always with us to the end of the age. We will forever be reliant on Him and His power to get through this life and reach our forever home with Him.
This is a really great promise for us. Jesus gave the disciples 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, just as He did through the disciples. 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 who blesses us and Who furthermore 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, 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 hang around and wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In hindsight, it turned out to be a ten day wait. But they didn’t know that. 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 Isaac! Waiting may sound like an easy thing to do, but it isn’t! 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. The disciples too were in a dilly of a pickle. 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 too 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. Tornadoes. Monkey Pox! 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?
If we are willing, then we readily see God’s tremendous power and grace for us in all things. We are reminded that we belong to God in our Baptism. We are reminded that we are confirmed in the Church, ever seeking His real presence in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We are reminded that all of life’s ups and downs don’t rest solely on our shoulders and our power. Instead, if we place our faith in Christ our Lord, we find more than just power. We find peace, hope, forgiveness and love. And this we do together - as the church.
Every so often in life, some technological advancement makes life 17% better for us than it was before. Telephones are better than hollering down the street. Freezers are better than cutting ice out of the frozen lake for the ice house. And so on and so on. But there are also technologies and luxuries that renege on this promise. Enter Satan’s invention of the Propane BBQ grill! Oh it may be convenient and fast but it’s not real fire! Everybody knows that real fire comes from wood or charcoal! That’s where you get flavour and smoke that bathes a BBQ brisket to perfection! There is no replacement for fire and even the tedious task of tending it.
If I were to take one of those charcoals out of my Big Green Egg charcoal grill and leave it by itself, we notice how quickly that heat and fire starts to fade away. It smoulders, grows colder and colder, until finally, it’s gone. Our faith can be like this too. If we ourselves become like that little charcoal, cold and alone, our faith and hope in God can and will die. We don’t know how long. A charcoal cannot continue to fire itself apart from others. Likewise for us. We need to rely on God’s power and promise together. This is why our Lord Jesus ascends, in order that the Holy Spirit and the fire of faith may come and lead us in the way of truth, life and salvation. And yet even in our Lord’s absence we have also His promised presence: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”" (MT 28:20). We fix our hearts and minds on His words on His promise and on His power. Now and forever more. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!