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Holy Thursday – The Ascension of Christ
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesian 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
What is the importance of the Ascension? Only your salvation and help in this present darkness. Only the rule of Jesus Christ over all things, and his intercession for us all as our high priest. Only the guarantee that as he was received into the Presence of the Father, so will ours, which have been filled with His Spirit. The Ascension is the crowning glory of Jesus’s work in his incarnation; the Ascension is the mission of God.
In Ephesians 1:15 Paul is thankful for the Ephesians, and prays for them that they may have “wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,” that is, Jesus. That wisdom and revelation are in fact predicated, reliant on the fact that Jesus is not here. How so? Wouldn’t we receive wisdom and knowledge from him more directly if he was still here?
This last week’s passage from John, 14:15 and onward, tells us that Jesus leaves but is sending the Holy Spirit, which unites us to Him and through him to the Father, who will indwell us. We don’t see Jesus now face to face, but have the very presence of the Spirit within. The more we live in accordance with Christ indwelling us by the Spirit, the more we may have “the eyes of our hearts enlightened.” When we exercise faith, trust in the Lord, and live humbly in accordance with that reality, we progress in the enlightenment of God. And what we come to know is, “the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”
The hope to which he has called us: Life with God in a renewed heavens and earth, seeing God face to face;
The riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints: The inheritance is Christ’s inheritance, to sit at the Father’s hand. At the right hand of a ruler in the ancient world was to be the executor of the ruler’s power; so Joseph ruled Egypt because he was at Pharaoh’s right hand, and Jesus rules from the Father’s right hand, which brings us to the next point;
And what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe: This is the key, right here. Jesus reigns because he ascended to the Father, and he reigns now. The next verses explain exactly what this means:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
So much here, so much mystery and abundance and joy. The ascension is the logical conclusion of the resurrection, part and parcel together. To be seated in the heavenly places, as the Christ of God, is to be the ruler, period. All things are under his feet, all rule and authority and power and dominion. All human authorities, rulers, powers, and dominions, and all spiritual, whether angelic or demonic, all under the all-seeing eye and all-mighty arm of Jesus Christ, who is our savior and our God, forever and ever, Amen.
And we? The Church? “His body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.” Being Christ’s body is not a metaphor, a nice symbol. It is a fact, a mysterious, inexplicable, metaphysical fact. We, through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit who came because Christ ascended, are so united to him that we are rightly called his body, as we receive his body and meditate on his words, and thus become more united, more like him, more transformed in the gradual process of our walk towards our end.
I end with three points I want us to take away tonight:
1) The Christ is the one who is lifted up for our salvation. The Word, the Son of God, did not just come down and take on human flesh to empathize with our suffering, but also to then return, taking that human flesh with him, so that our bodies too might transcend. As Augustine once put it, “What was lifted up into heaven, if not what had been taken from earth?” His humanity, transfigured by his divinity, enables us to return to God.
2) The Holy Spirit comes because of the Ascension. We are filled with the Spirit, who unites us to Christ, and is our guarantee of salvation, and our guide into the knowledge of Jesus Christ as we exercise faith, hope, and love.
3) We have been raised with Christ, who rules over all creation, even now. He reigns, even as the broken world yet resists and strikes at us through all means, whether powers, or health, or discouragements of all kinds. But we are not broken, or defeated, by the worst the world can throw at us. “Set your hearts on things above,” Paul tells us in Colossians, “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Luther once said, “I believe that he is ascended, therefore, he can help me and all believers in all our necessities against all our adversaries and enemies.” Do you believe that? Do you trust him? He and only he can help you, and deliver you from the storm of life. Like the marriage vows many of us said to our spouses, he comforts us, honors and keeps us, in sickness and health, and is faithful to us as long as we shall live, which is eternal due to his work.
I conclude with the words of Cyril of Jerusalem: “Do not think that because he is absent in the flesh He is therefore absent in the spirit; he is here in the midst of us, listening to what is said of him, seeing our thoughts, searching our hearts and souls; he is ready even now to present all of you, as you come forward for Baptism in the Holy Spirit, to the Father.” Amen.
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