Ascension Sermon

Ascension and Epiphany are two of the major feast days in the church year that seem to have fallen by the wayside. As a matter of fact it seems that Christmas and Easter are the only two feast days that get top billing. And in many churches, even Lutheran churches, Christmas Day is celebrated only if it lands on a Sunday. Thank the Lord Easter is on Sunday at least that is consistently celebrated! But folks, don’t forget the Creeds. We celebrate God becoming man and dwelling with His creation on Christmas and Epiphany. Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified, died, and was buried (Maundy Thursday and Good Friday). The third day He rose again from the dead (Easter), and He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty (Ascension). Like all the others days just mentioned Ascension must be a big deal. It’s mentioned in all three Ecumenical Creeds.

 Now as to why days like Ascension have fallen to the wayside, there are many and varied reasons and I don’t think there is any need to rehash them here. Instead we will focus on why the Ascension is so important.

 First off, to ignore the Ascension is to ignore the complete plan of salvation. In other words, to stop with the resurrection of Christ is to stop short of what our Lord has prepared for you. For you see, when Christ ascends bodily to be with the Father, this is the first time that anything earthly or bodily has entered into heaven, the presence of God. And as we know, that by Baptism we are joined to all Christ has done for us. When He ascended all of humanity ascended with Him. The Ascension of Christ is the glorification and completion of Christ’s Incarnation. In other words, Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter don’t mean much without the Ascension.

 Like the resurrection of Christ foreshadows and guarantees our resurrection, so the bodily ascension of Christ foreshadows and guarantees that we will live bodily in the presence of our Lord. Again, we will not be bodiless spirits bumping around the universe for eternity. We will exist in body and soul in the presence of God for eternity.  The Ascension is the glorification of Christ’s humanity and it is thereby our glorification. Are you beginning to see why Ascension is a big deal?

 But folks the joy doesn’t stop there. Our Lord gives us grace upon grace. We receive, even now, the benefits of Christ’s ascension. As we have learned these last few weeks in John 16, it was necessary that Jesus return to the Father and sit at His right hand. Why? So the Holy Spirit can come and give us the faith to believe everything mentioned above. But not only give us understanding and faith but give us the Incarnate, once dead, now alive, ascended Christ. The Holy Spirit testifies and points to Christ to show the new reality that God has created; that we are redeemed sinners in the hand of a merciful God. He also calls, gathers and enlightens us and points to WHERE Jesus is located for us; in His Word and Sacraments.

 But wait a minute pastor, what about that bit of the creed that states that Jesus is to be found sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty? Isn’t Jesus located there in heaven until He comes back to judge the living and the dead? Folks, this is why we need the Holy Spirit to give us understanding, for you see, sitting at the right of God is not just Christ, but also the Church, and you.

 Christ is the head of the body, His body, the Church. You cannot divide the head from the body. In Ephesians 5, marriage is used as another image of the intimacy between Christ and His Church. The two are one flesh and cannot be divided. Christ is located with His Church. The Church IS the right hand of God the Father Almighty. As the Holy Scriptures confess, Christ is physically present in His Church…This is My Body…..This is My Blood. Christ is not locked in heaven awaiting His second coming. He is physically located in His Word and in His Sacraments, in other words, in the Church.

 And again, it is through the Church that Christ is in you. Christ enters your ears and your heart through the proclamation of His Word, in Baptism, and by hearing the Absolution. Christ enters your mouth and your heart by His Holy Body and Blood. And this Christ you receive is the Incarnate, once dead, resurrected, and ascended Christ. Therefore, you who were once dead in sin are now alive. Plus you have also ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

 Jesus tells us not to sit in a place of honor so that you not be ashamed when you are kicked down to a less honorable seat. Instead, sit in the less honorable seat and rejoice when you are called to sit in a more honorable seat. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Ascension of Christ brings us to the most honorable seat in creation. You are sitting it even now. You are here with Christ, in His Church, and you reign with Him, for you are seated with Christ at the right hand of God the Father Almighty!  This is why we celebrate the Ascension. You have been called to sit at the highest seat.

 May we never diminish the Ascension of Christ. May the Holy Spirit give us the wisdom and faith to pray the Litany that confesses that the totality of Christ’s incarnation, life, and work, including His Ascension, is our help and salvation.

 “By the mystery of Your Holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity; By Your Baptism, fasting, and temptation; by your agony and bloody sweat; by your cross and passion; by your precious death and burial; by your glorious resurrection and ASCENSION; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter: Help us Good Lord. 

I Confess: I Was a Thief

No one likes awkward silences. Awkward silences between individuals is stressful, and often times people say anything that comes to mind in order to break the silence. Believe me, as a pastor, many a confession has come forth from those who felt the need to break the silence. 🙂 In a small group of friends, silences aren’t really all that bad. Usually people will stare at the floor until someone comes up with another topic, but there seems to be less pressure. But then the stressful awkwardness comes back with a vengeance when there is silence in a large corporate setting like a church service.

 The pastor offers the Prayers of the Church and there is no Amen from the congregation. The pastor gives the Absolution and not an Amen is spoken. The pastor proclaims, “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace.” And no one says a thing. Awkward….

 So, as a pastor, the immediate remedy is to fill in the silence and respond with an Amen yourself. I mean really an Amen should be said, right? We can’t have an un-Amened prayer. So the pastor says it loudly to fill in the silent space. I too was guilty of this.

 But then after some reflection, a couple of years ago, I had to admit to my two congregations that I had been stealing from them. I had been stealing their Amens.

 For you see, those Amens belong to the congregation. As the pastor I have the burden and privilege of proclaiming and giving God’s gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation to the flock and their Amens are the acknowledgement of those gifts received. The pastor gives the gifts; the people receive and proclaim Amen, i.e. it is so. I have received. It is wrong for me to take that from them. I cannot receive God’s gifts for them so I should not proclaim as such.

 Congregants, be bold and confident, and proclaim Amen. Acknowledge and proclaim that you have indeed received what Christ has to give. Pastors, give them a chance to say it. When the awkward silence hangs there for a second or two, you will be surprised at how many Amens will ring out.