The Ascension of Our Lord

The Ascension of Our Lord – St. Luke 24:44-53

It’s Thursday.  Jesus is gathered together with His disciples.  It has happened this way many times before, but this time it is different.  This time Jesus is going to do something that will change the way the whole Church on earth gathers for worship.

Jesus is of course going to institute the Lord’s Supper in the middle of a traditional Passover celebration.

And when that is complete, He will go out into the Garden of Gethsemane, earnestly pray to His Father in heaven, before allowing Himself to be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests, stand trial before both Herod and Pilate; be crucified, die, and be buried in a tomb.

For the disciples, this is goodbye; whether they know it or not.  Their master, their teacher, their leader, their friend, is going to be arrested, tried and killed, and all they can do is run away in fear, and then watch from a distance as the events unfold in their horrific fashion.

And yet it will be these particular events on that particular Thursday that the whole Church on earth gathers together to celebrate and remember each and every Lord’s Day.  It is what we confess to be true in the Creeds; it is the basis of the entire Christian faith, the very thing we confess each time we kneel before the Lord’s altar to receive His true body and blood.

It is the events of that Thursday, some 2000 years ago, that draws us here again and again, not just on Sunday, but each time the Word is offered, each time the gifts of God’s grace are being distributed, each time we find ourselves beaten down by the lies and temptations of the devil.

But hold on.  It’s Thursday.  It is a very different Thursday, and yet once again, Jesus is gathered together with His disciples.  It has happened this way many times before, but this time it is different.  This time Jesus is going to do something that will change the way the whole Church on earth gathers for worship.

Jesus is of course about to ascend into heaven, and resume His place at God’s right hand, where He will be surrounded by angels and archangels, who will continually sing His praises.

For the disciples, this is goodbye; whether they now it or not.  Their master, their teacher, their leader, their friend, is going to leave them standing on this mountaintop, with necks strained toward heaven, and they are going to be alone, again.

The disciples have already said goodbye to Jesus on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  Jesus was ripped from their presence, betrayed by one of their own; He was put on trial, and was crucified.  He was buried.

But that goodbye was only temporary as Jesus rose 3 days later, and for the past 40 days has been appearing and making Himself, first to the disciples, and then to more than 500 other witnesses.

And yet, today, the disciples must say goodbye again.  The mood is much different this time; the disciples are not running away in fear; nor are they concerned that their own lives will soon also be brought to an end; but there is still confusion; still a hint of despair; still some concern over what life without the physical presence of Jesus will be like.

Questions remain – what happens now?  What about the kingdom of Israel?  When will they see Jesus again?  What are the disciples to do until Jesus returns?

Once again, goodbyes are exchanged.  Once again there are questions about the future.  Once again, Jesus departs, this time not led away by soldiers with weapons, but rather upon clouds with the holy angels.

It is the events of that Thursday, some 2000 years ago, that draws us here again and again, not just on Sunday, but each time the Word is offered, each time the gifts of God’s grace are being distributed, each time we find ourselves beaten down by the lies and temptations of the devil.

For the Ascension of Our Lord is our ascension as well, just as His life, death and resurrection are ours.  Christ lived a perfect life in your stead; He died the death you rightfully deserved; He rose from the dead as the first fruits of those who will rise again, including you and all who believe, teach and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; and today He ascends, preparing the way for your own ascension on the Last Day, when you will join our Lord, standing around His throne, singing praises to Him who was slain, who now lives and reigns without end.

This Thursday in the Church Year is no less significant than the Thursday that begins the holy days to Easter; this Thursday in the Church Year is the day in which we gather to celebrate with anticipation the day when we too will ascend in glory.

For unlike that Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, the disciples know that this goodbye is not permanent.  In Holy Week, it was only 3 short days from the betrayal in one garden, to the empty tomb in the midst of another garden.

What about this time?  Will it be 3 short days before Christ returns in glory to usher in His eternal kingdom?

Well, it has been more than 2000 years since the ascension of Christ; but on the other hand, we know that it will not be long now.  Christ promised that for a little while we would not see Him, and again a little while and we would see Him.  It is just a little while before we see the heavens rent asunder, angels and archangels descending, and the resurrected and ascended Christ descending, so that we may join Him in glory.

Until that day, we know that Christ is always with us; that He has never truly left us or His disciples, even as He ascended out of sight.  Christ is still present here with us today, in the Word, in the water, and in the bread and wine.  Christ is still present here with us as we do the work He has given us to do until His return, most notably making disciples of all nations.  Christ is still with us on this Thursday in May, just as He remains with us every day until His return in glory.

There is no goodbye with Jesus.  He remains with us today and every day.  And on this Thursday in the Church year, we are reminded once more, that we will spend forever with Him in glory.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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