Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome to the Forgotten Feast! Today is Ascension Day, or, as it’s more properly called, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. But there is reason to call it the “Forgotten” Feast. Ascension Day is classed in the church year as a major festival, which means it’s a day for all churches to hold the Divine Service. It’s a day on par with Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. The sad fact is that many congregations and many Christians have forgotten all about celebrating this important feast.
We understand the reason why we celebrate Good Friday: Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death on the cross for the salvation of the world. We understand why we celebrate Easter: Because of Jesus’ resurrection, the tomb is empty, and death is defeated. He is risen indeed! Alleluia. But Ascension Day? For many, it isn’t even remotely on the radar. There are no Ascension Day parades, no Ascension Day sales at the mall. I have never heard anyone say, “Sorry, we can’t make it to church, we’re going to Grandma’s for Ascension Day.” When compared to Christmas and Easter, Ascension seems not to be very important.
But the Ascension of Jesus is important. It’s very important. If Christ is not Ascended, then we’ve got a big problem. Where in the world is He? So why should we care about Ascension Day?
The Meaning of the Ascension
The facts of the Ascension are summarised in the Apostle’s Creed, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty.” At the end of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of Acts, Luke describes Jesus ‘going up’ from earth into heaven. This Ascension happened on the Mount of Olives, and before eyewitnesses. The days of appearing and disappearing to the disciples were over. Jesus now continues His work through the preaching of the Gospel. The ascension is a lasting reminder to Christians that his kingdom was not of this earth.
Jesus’ ascension into heaven was a public certification for his disciples of his lordship over creation. When a king is crowned, he already has the power and authority of the office by virtue of descent. When Queen Elizabeth dies, Charles will become the king right away, even before the coronation. The coronation or inauguration simply certifies publicly that he is entering in upon the exercise of the office that is his. Jesus’ ascension into heaven publicly certified his exalted status for his disciples of all ages. The ascension proclaims the reign of Jesus Christ over all things. Christ had triumphed; the King was returning to His city, to His throne, to sit and reign. “The Kingdoms of the world, did become, the Kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Now He reigns over all things. The victory over Sin and Death is won. Death has lost its sting, and Sin has lost its power. The Law is fulfilled. Christ has conquered by His obedience and death and now lives and reigns for all eternity.
Even though Jesus withdrew His visible presence from us, he still promised to be with us until the end of the world. Christ’s ascension was not a physical removal of Christ’s human nature to some remote spot in the universe. No one thought Jesus had suddenly become a primitive spaceman, heading off beyond the Mars, so that if NASA searched throughout the far reaches space they would eventually find him. No, he ascended into Heaven at the right hand of God. Heaven is simply where God is, and God is everywhere. God does not have a right hand as we do. His right hand is everywhere. Paul says, Jesus “ascended up far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things,” (Eph. 4:10). So, Jesus Christ, always true God and true man, is still with us, and present everywhere. The resurrection appearances of Jesus show that quite nicely. He’s here, He’s there, He’s wherever He wants to be. In the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, on a mountain in Galilee. He seems to appear and disappear at will. And that’s precisely the point. He who fills all things in every way can appear wherever He wants whenever He wills.
The Comfort of the Ascension
In ascending, Jesus has gone away in one sense to be with us in a yet greater sense. The Lord is busy and active gathering His church, proclaiming His kingdom, sending His Spirit, praying for His church, interceding for sinners. The gift of the Ascension is Jesus’ continuing presence in the Word, the water of Baptism, and with the bread and the wine. He has arranged everything in the church to deliver to you the forgiveness of sins and to keep you strong in the saving faith. Not only has he won your forgiveness and salvation by his death and resurrection, but his ascension shows that he has not left us on our own. Jesus has not gone away and forgotten us. Rather, he has ascended into heaven for the very purpose of being with his people all around the world, in all times and at all places. And he does this in and through the church’s ministry.
The Ascension also certifies that Jesus Christ rules over all creation, and he governs and rules as exalted Lord in the interest of his church, for your benefit. Christ will never stop ruling and governing this universe on our behalf. All things will work for the good of God’s children (Ro 8:28). It means that all things are under his control and for our good. Christ Jesus right now is ruling all things for the sake of his church!
It may look like your life is going downhill: Health problems, financial problems, family and relationship problems, locked up in quarantine for who knows how long. Chaos and confusion and careening from one crisis to another. And what about the church? From our perspective, it may look like the church is on its last legs. Numbers are down. People are discouraged. Has Christ forgotten his church?
The comfort of the Ascension is that Christ is still in charge. He is ruling and governing all things for the good of his church, both individually and collectively. When you hurt, he knows it. Your brother Jesus knows your weaknesses, and he will give you the strength to endure, to endure to the end. Though many ears seem deaf to the church’s message, there are still those who rejoice to hear the good news. There are still precious souls being gathered into Christ’s church and nurtured here. So take heart. You do not need to fear death, the devil, or the world with all its hostility. Christ lives! He reigns!
The same Jesus who gave his life for you will make all things work out for your eternal good. The Ascension assures us that Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a place for us. Because Jesus came from heaven and has returned to heaven we can take comfort that he will also take us there when we die. And when he returns to Earth at the last, you will be with him. In the meantime, the Church throughout the world continues his work of proclaiming “repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name” until he comes.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.