The Ascension of our Lord – Series C – Luke 24:44-53
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
The Ascension of the Christ does not mean the absence of the Christ.
What we observe on this day, is not that Jesus is trapped in heaven, or that we are trapped here on earth. It is not that He has gone away, or that we cannot go to where He is found.
His Ascension does not equal His absence.
So then why, does it feel so much and so often the opposite?
Why does our faith feel like it’s constantly in danger of flickering out?
Why do we feel so confused and speechless when it comes to talking about the mission of the church?
Or how that mission happens and goes forward?
Why does it so often feel like we have to start from scratch, reinvent the wheel, or go about things on our own, especially in the things of God?
For indeed this life of ours, lived in this fallen world, definitely has a way of making it seem that Ascension is all about absence.
That we’re on our own, and that Jesus has merely given us a few pointers and then tossed to the wolves.
After all, if we just open our eyes, we find that in this life, our enemies still hound us from every corner.
Our sinful nature pecks away at us each day, leading us to hurt ourselves and hurt others. We talk about unity and love in Christ’s church, and yet so often we find division and resentment.
Still further, outside of our church, our relationships and our families, this fallen world pummels us with illness, natural disasters, wars, calamities and death.
We watch the news, listen to the culture around us and see nothing but grim horizons.
And also then, not to be left out, the devil himself accuses us, whispering in our ears that we will never be good enough for a holy and righteous God, asking us if God really loves us with all that we’ve been and all that we’ve done.
It would seem that the deck is stacked against us.
That the Christian life is one of groping in the dark, that the truth of Christ’s Word and His faith can never be absolutely known for certain. That He’s left us to fend for ourselves, and now we’ve just got to make a go of it.
In the face of these enemies, we groan, agonize and long for a Jesus who is not absent.
And in the face of these enemies, in the face of our fear, our despair, our resentment and our groaning, the Lord is present.
And He is present not because of our feelings, not simply because we desire and want Him here, not because we have prayed in the right way, or been faithful with the right things.
He is present because He has ascended. This is the joy, comfort and promise that we celebrate this day.
For His Ascension is the very foundation, the promise and guarantee, that He is present for you, today and to the end of the age.
And make no mistake, this is not some pantheistic, conceptual, theoretical presence of good feelings or positive energy.
It is His true presence.
His actual body and blood, His promise to create, sustain and give His own faith through the hearing of His own Word. It is the actual, for you, drowning of sin, burying into His own death, and raising unto His own resurrection, given in the waters of His own Baptism.
This Word and these Sacraments are not small trivial things. We do not gather around them as the relics of Jesus’ legacy. They are not received as memorials, or mere reminders.
They are indeed the very gifts that He has attached Himself to, and sworn to you, in the blood of His own flesh, to be present in, for you.
So to give you all of Himself. His faith, His righteousness, His death and resurrection, and yes, as we observe on this day, His ascension to eternal life.
For when we confess that He has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, it is that we confess that He has sat down at the seat of mercy and forgiveness.
That the Father, who works this mercy according to his right hand, does all of this, now through Christ himself.
Through the Word that is Christ’s own Word, as the voice that is His own voice, the one that cuts through fear and despair, through sin and unbelief, through guilt and the devil himself.
The Word that forgives, and delivers mercy.
Through the Baptism that has taken you, and buried you with Christ, made His death your own, and His resurrection your life and His promise. This Baptism, which is no metaphor, no figure of speech, or clever religious illustration, but His own promise, His own Word, His own Baptism.
And mercy, delivered to you, through His body and His blood. The body that is given in your place, and the blood that unites you to God himself, washes you clean, and keeps you at his table forever.
Ascension is about the presence of Christ, and indeed, His presence for you.
For it is the end of Christ’s journey. The very fulfillment of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
Through Holy Week, our Lord accomplished salvation, and it is in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, that He now delivers it.
For we do not look for forgiveness and mercy by time-travelling back to Golgotha. There it was accomplished. But here, in your midst, by this font, table and Word, it is delivered. Given. Finished. For You.
The Ascension of Christ is the end and the completion of His journey.
But it is the beginning of yours, for it is the birth of the Church.
As Christ has gone ahead of us, as he was baptized in the Jordan, driven to the wilderness, hated and rejected by men, crucified and buried, so we will follow.
For the journey of the Church is not anything new. It is not a different path or a new course, it is, rather, a life lived in the body of Christ, and so in the journey that He Himself has travelled and finished.
In this world you will have trouble, and that is nothing new, our Lord, Himself, has already told you, it is not a surprise. The world will hate you, for hated Him first.
As you proclaim the Gospel in your lives, in your families, in your work, and even in your death, the world will not applaud and celebrate you for it. And again, this is no surprise…our Lord has already told you this.
For this journey is a journey down to the cross, down to death itself, it is lived in the wilderness of temptation, it is endured under the persecution of the world, it is walked with the whispers of the devil following close at hand…for it intentionally is making its way to the cross.
Indeed, this journey is not only the life of the Church on earth, which will remain until the end of time, but it is the life of everyone who is washed and named in the passion of God himself.
You live this journey from the font of Holy Baptism to the grave itself. The footsteps of Jesus, you do follow, whether we like or not, and there is suffering, there is rejection, and there is, eventually, death.
Indeed we live and travel this journey every year, from Advent to Pentecost, and we do this, not because of religious fanfare, or clever storytelling, but because His journey is our own in Holy Baptism.
As we follow Him in His own Word from Bethlehem to Bethany, we are united to His promises, we are given food for the journey, strength in the midst of the ongoing battle. We are reminded of who we are, and whose we are, we are brought by His faith into the fullness of where we are going, and of how we are getting there.
And yes, we live the fullness of this journey every Sunday, from the invocation to the benediction, the whole road from font to grave and back again. From the Lord who has snatched away our sins in His death, given us His Holy Absolution, called us His own, preached to us His Word and fed to us His own body and blood.
In this, heaven truly meets earth, and the ascended One provides Himself as the food, the faith, the finished course.
For we do not journey alone. Christ is present…and present for us.
He has not only gone ahead of us, but He bears with us, providing all that is needed, every step of the way.
The Ascension of Christ is the utmost promise and comfort.
For He and He alone, knows the way home. He Has brought you this far, and He promises to finish the journey.
Indeed, Jesus is not trapped in heaven, and we are not trapped here on earth.
He has not gone away, and truly by this font, at this table, and in this Word, we do go to where He is found, for in the same, He comes down to us. Indeed, Heaven on earth.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.