Sermon: “He Ascended Into Heaven”
Lectionary Series C; Seventh Sunday of Easter; The Ascension of Our Lord
Sunday, June 2, 2019
Gospel Reading: Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This past Thursday was the Ascension of Our Lord. It is a day in the church year that is all too often overlooked. Yet, this should not be the case, especially considering that we confess in the Creed each week: “He Ascended Into Heaven”. The Ascension of Our Lord serves as a bridge between Easter and Pentecost. But it is far more than a bridge. It is the coronation of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Perhaps when we think of a coronation, what comes to mind is a high school coronation of a homecoming king and queen and their court. Though this is somewhat helpful, it pales in comparison to what the coronation of Christ was like.
As Americans, we probably struggle to grasp the significance of a coronation. We do not have a monarchy. We do not have a king or queen. The closest we have to a coronation is an inauguration. And though thousands attend the inauguration of our president, it seems to fail in the realm of the pomp and circumstance as a king or queen sits upon their throne and the crown is placed upon their head.
In fact, as I thought of a coronation, the only images that came to mind for me were from movies. I am a big fan of the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. I love the books, and I love the movies. There is a scene at the end of the final film. The great enemy Soron has been defeated. The people then gather in victory at Osgiliath, the great white city, and there in the upper outdoor court, everyone gathers from far and wide to behold the coronation of their king. King Aragorn stands before the people as the crown is placed upon his head. And as soon as the crown is placed upon his head, the people let out a shout of joy and victory. It is a beautiful image to consider in light of the Ascension of Our Lord. Perhaps you have others that come to mind.
The Ascension of Our Lord took place in Bethany on the Mount of Olives. The disciples were all gathered round, and then Jesus blessed them. And while He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried upon into heaven. And then they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God.
It seems hard to fathom that they worshipped Him and rejoiced. It has been my experience in life that good-byes are hardly a time for rejoicing. Coming from a blended family growing up, I have had my fair share of good-byes. My older siblings would visit for a month in the summer. That was often the only time I would see them in the year. And every time I went to the airport, it would rip my heart out to say good-bye yet again. Good-byes are painful. To endure a good-bye is like having a piece of you torn away from your body. At least that is the way it feels to me. I hate good-byes.
Yet the disciples were rejoicing and worshipping when Jesus left and ascended into heaven. It would seem that such an occasion would leave them downtrodden. Here Jesus had journeyed with them these last three years. They had seen Him die and now rise back to life. Now He was leaving again. It would seem that they would feel abandoned, if anything else.
But this was no abandonment. This warranted no hard good-bye. The Ascension of Our Lord to be coroneted as King of the universe was a time of celebration. And it still is to this day. As I said before, the Ascension of Our Lord is more than just a bridge between Easter and Pentecost. It is a bridge between heaven and earth.
As Jesus departed from this earth to take His rightful spot at the right hand of God the Father, He did so for us. Remember what Jesus said to His disciples: Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3).
Jesus is up in heaven preparing a place just for us. Just think of the love and care, the attention to detail, the great lengths He is going to in order to make sure all is prepared for our arrival. He can’t wait to have us with Him for all eternity, so He is making sure that our entrance into His house will be far beyond what we could ever ask for or imagine.
But He knows there is more to the journey that remains for us. So, Scripture also says that Christ is the one who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8:34). From His throne, Jesus is praying for us, pleading for us, bringing our requests to God the Father Himself. And there is nothing more that the Father delights in hearing than the voice of His Son. So, let us call upon Jesus’ name. He is our advocate with the Father (1st John 2:1).
As our advocate then, He exercises His authority and power for our benefit. Through the means of grace, through Word and Sacraments, Christ the King protects us from the evil one. Through the means of grace, Christ the King prepares us for His final return giving us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Now to our human minds, it often doesn’t make sense how words and water, simple bread and wine can do all that. To our minds it would seem to make more sense if Jesus would have just stayed on earth. But His being on His throne in heaven in no way diminishes the impact He still has here on earth.
The Ascension of Our Lord is in no way a retreat into heaven, but it is instead an advance of Christ’s saving work here on earth. Not by our own reason or strength are we able to grasp this to be true. In fact, all too often we take God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament for granted, failing to prioritize it in our busy lives. Which is why, just like the disciples who stood looking into heaven, we need help to believe that the Ascension of Our Lord is no abandonment, but it is exactly what we need from our King.
It is as Jesus told His disciples, Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7).
This is why the disciples worshiped and rejoiced as they saw Jesus go up into heaven as He had opened their minds to the Scriptures. They knew He was not abandoning them. He was sending them the Helper, just as He promised. He was sending them out to be His witnesses, to proclaim the good news of great joy that would be for all people. And all along the way, He would be there to help them, support them, equip them, and strengthen them.
And the same is true for us as we are called to be His witnesses. With the same Spirit that was given to the disciples, so too are we sent and clothed with power from on high. In the Spirit given to us in our baptism, we are called upon to Share Hope and Teach Christ in the confidence of our King who sits upon His throne in heaven. Let’s constantly ask ourselves, who in our midst needs to hear this good news of great joy just like us? A family member, a friend, a co-worker?
We are called upon to give witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Though His throne on earth was a cross where He bore on His head a crown of thorns, He is now enthroned and exalted in the halls of heaven. The great divide that existed between humanity and God has been ended. When Jesus ascended and took His spot at the right hand of the Father, everything was now done. Sin, death, the devil, it was all done for. This is the message that is placed upon our lips as we join with those disciples in worshipping and rejoicing.
We have a God whose work of redemption for us is complete. We have a God who is ruling over the entire universe for us. We have a God who is preparing a place for us. We have a God who is interceding for us. And so let us rejoice in our God, our ascended King.
This is why we gather here today. Like those disciples who were continually in the temple blessing God, so it is with us. Because this is where our strength comes for serving as His witnesses. This is where His Word and Sacraments are. This is where Jesus is at, our ascended Lord and King.
We gather to worship at the feet of our King whose final reign is now at hand. And it won’t be long and we will soon see Him descend from heaven with a cry of command and the voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God. It won’t be long and we will always be with our Lord. Praise be to Christ our King! In His name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.