CONFIDENCE OF THE ASCENSION DAY
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Special greetings to you on this day as we celebrate Ascension Sunday.
Our meditation comes from Luke 24, let me read selective verses again:
Jesus said: “….everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations….
Having explained the purpose of his first visit as Mary’s child, Jesus went ahead and explained the purpose of His Ascension and what it might mean for us.
Jesus said: 48You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised….”50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them….he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
Let us pray,
Gracious Father, thank you for the life giving words of Jesus. In times of our trouble, loneliness and abandonment, may your love empower and sustain us. As each day ends, help us to remain confident in the fruits of the gospel. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Friends in Christ, let me ask you this morning, what info would you have about Ascension Day? For example, do you know which day it falls on as per Christian Calendar? Do you know the significance behind Christ’s exaltation in Ascension? Importantly, do you understand many blessings of Ascension upon our lives? If you do not know answers to any of these questions, ‘do not panic!’, ‘do not worry!’
Although, information is supposed to quickly transmit these days, people still struggle because of lack of Information. Particularly in the context of festivals and special days, in a highly commercialised world of ours, we expect to hear about all special days. It is extremely rare to miss out on a special day, because marketing world keeps tabs on all special days, giving us plenty of notice through advertisements and placing options before us as to how to celebrate it with ‘good deals’. Various catalogues and advertisements spell out how to have a perfect celebration, be it Christmas, Easter, or Mother’s Day.
Last time I checked; no catalogue told me how to celebrate Ascension Day ‘perfectly.’ Did anyone here receive a catalogue that promotes ‘Ascension Day special deals?’ I reckon, ‘highly unlikely’, because marketing world cannot commercialise this special event, because Ascension Day exclusively speaks to the faithful, i.e. the church. Many are the blessings with which Christ blesses his church as he ascends to the Father.
Simply put, the feast of the Ascension, or Ascension Day, refers to the event when our Lord was taken up into heaven, to be seated at the right of God. This particular festival falls on Thursday, the fortieth day after Easter. The background to this given in Acts 1: 3, which identifies that post resurrection Jesus spent forty days with his disciples and taught them about the kingdom of God, after the completion of this period, Jesus ascended to the Father.
The Ascension Day signifies our Lord’s exaltation as King. The one who once wore crown of thorns is given a crown of righteousness to wear and rule forever by the right hand side of the Father. Having given authority and all things placed under his feet, Jesus rules with great power, dominion, carrying the name above all names (Ephesians 1: 21-22). Therefore, Ascension is good news for the church! Baptised people can truly be excited about it, and celebrate it, as if one of our own mate has become King! Would you not be proud as a punch, if one of your own good mates is exalted to a position of great authority? I bet you would!
You see friends, Ascension Day is not just an event of Jesus’ life from which we (as his people) are somehow disconnected, but the very event speaks greatly about our future. Yes, we have a glorious future ahead of us, because our Lord will returns for us one day. No wonder, this special day bestows many blessings upon us. But before we get to the blessings part, let us first ask what farewells might mean in our lives?
In Luke 24, Jesus farewelled his disciples by speaking to them, explaining the purpose of his first visit as Mary’s child. As Jesus said ‘goodbye’, he encouraged them to continue in faith. Jesus ascended before their eyes, the last image they had for memory is Christ blessing them as he departed. In this regard, Ascension Day was truly extraordinary event!
If we were to compare events of Ascension Day to a regular farewell of our times, one aspect is likely relatable, i.e. how people say ‘goodbye’ and the comfort such goodbye brings as people take leave. As humans, we say ‘goodbye’ to the ones we are leaving behind as we depart from one place to the next. Whether it is at driveways, or railway stations, or at airports, saying ‘goodbye with a kiss or hug’ is common and natural for families that love one another. A lot happens in a simple farewell. Most farewells identify reasons for leaving company, it also provides indication of where the loved ones are travelling, offers comfort to those who are left behind through gifts/memories, and possibly hint a future reunions. On the other hand, lack of ‘see you later’ or an acknowledgment of farewell might bring unnecessary stress and strain in relationships. For the sake of healthy relationships we say ‘farewell’ to each other.
Let me share with you a true story: I remember a time in my life which happened two weeks after my wedding. I had to leave my new bride in India and travel alone to Australia. This was due to visa related complications we experienced at that time. The original plan was, post wedding, my wife and I would come to Australia together, but that wasn’t meant to be with visa issues for my wife. So to cut a long story short, as newly married groom I had to travel alone to Australia as I needed to resume my work. As we made it to the airport, I still remember tears in both our eyes as we said goodbye to each other as a new bride and groom. As we farewelled each other, I comforted my teary wife promising, that I will come again soon for her. Having secured visa and made proper travel arrangements I said, I will take her to her rightful place, her home with me in Australia. To be honest, that is the painful goodbyes, I ever had to say in my life, but the comfort for me was it was temporary until things are sorted out. As my new bride understood the purpose for my departure, and my plans to return for her, she let me go promising she will take care of herself. No wonder, farewells are emotional times, but they are necessary events in life.
Our Lord’s ascension is no different in this sense. As much as Jesus is saying ‘farewell’ to his disciples, this was not forever! There is reason for his departure, just as there was a reason for his first arrival as Mary’s son and the death on the cross. When we fail to understand the purpose that is when we become agitated. The disciples had that experience when Jesus was put to death. Jesus warned them through his teachings yet they failed to grasp the meaning of that first farewell.
Unable to perceive purposes of God behind Jesus death, disciples thought that was the end! Afraid and panicking, disciples thought they lost the battle and so locked themselves worrying for their life. They were genuinely surprised to see Jesus alive three days later. For forty days, Jesus explained the purpose behind his death. He opened their minds by pointing to the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms and said, his death has served a purpose: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead (Luke 24: 46).
Just as the first coming had a purpose, Christ’ ascension also serves other purposes of God. You see friends, on the surface, although it might seem like God is abandoning his people once again, but the truth is far from that. I hear people say, in Australia, churches are fighting a losing battle, as congregations become older and smaller and wider culture moves further away from God. But the truth scripture proclaims is this, God never leaves nor forsakes his own. Even in Ascension, Jesus blesses his flock, and promises to return for it one day. Jesus heart beats for his flock because he has already given victory to His church. There lies the confidence of Ascension Day for us. The reason for our confidence comes because of all blessings Christ bestows upon the church as He ascended to the Father.
Look at how our Lord ascended, ‘while he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven’ (Luke 24: 50-51). After all, unlike us, God operates with power and dominion. Where humans see death, failure, public shame in Roman Crucifixion of Jesus, our God brings forth salvation, healing, and hope. Where people saw tomb, God brought forth life from the grave. This is our God. He loves and cares for us so much so that he extends his wounded hands to bless us. If not for the wounded hands that blesses us, what else can demonstrate his love so perfectly for us?
Christ love towards us promises many Ascension blessings.
First blessing: the promised Holy Spirit. Jesus promised, his exaltation comes with a blessing for the church. the Father, will send promised helper, the Holy Spirit to be with the church. We will hear more about it next Sunday (Pentecost Sunday).
Second blessing: Ascended Jesus prays for us to the Father. As we already heard in the rite of ‘confession and absolution’, Romans 8: 34 declares: ‘Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God's right side, speaking to him for us’ (CEV). So be of good cheer my friend, Jesus prays for you! Since Jesus prays for you, whatever maybe your need today, ask him to attach your prayer with his and submit them to the Father. In this way your soul could be secure knowing your prayers are certainly heard and will be answered.
Final blessing of the Ascension, take this into hearts today; the promise of your restoration in near future! Just as I said to my wife to wait patiently a little longer until I return to take her to be with me, in the same way, Christ promised, to take us to be with him. Angels proclaimed this truth when they asked disciples, ‘“why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” What comfort, what confidence this word gives? So, hope for the best in no matter what your circumstances is today. Despite your present-day calamities, troubles, wars, disease, as Paul said rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4).
In times of sorrow and doubt, when confronted by death of friend, or facing a major financial crisis or coming to terms with a difficult health prognosis, keep up your hope as you rely on Christ’s work for you. Just as an injured person relies on crutches to keep going in times of trouble, in the same way, in times of crisis rely on the promises of your baptismal faith, which you confess in the creed already.
Martin Luther gives us a glimpse of what confident faith looks like when he explained the second article of the creed. Luther said: ‘I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. (Small Catechism, explanation of the Second Article of the Creed)
The good news of the ascension then is this: no matter what our struggle is today, God has made me his own, to live under him in his kingdom, and granted me victory to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, all because of Jesus. Therefore, Ascension means, victory over everything, just as Christ is victorious and now is exalted. So, remain confident in faith and participate in Christ’s mission. Offering praise, thanks, and worship. No matter what, nothing can separate you from experiencing God’s love in this world or in the next. As Paul once aptly put it:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 34-38).
May this confidence in the ascended Lord preserves you always. Peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.