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Homily for the Ascension of Our Lord (Thursday May 9, 2024)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dearly beloved, our Christian faith does not merely concern the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ by which he paid for our sins and those of the whole world, nor does it merely concern the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead by which we have the hope of everlasting life; rather, our Christian faith has to do with the present reality that Christ has ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, as the Creed says. Therefore, on this day, the Church has set aside this day that we in faith may consider the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet, for many Christians, the reality of Christ’s ascension and reign at God’s right hand has little to no place in their faith. Part of this may be explained by an overemphasis in our preaching on the death and resurrection of our Lord to the detriment of other biblical doctrines. Although, at the same time, we should not depart from the death and resurrection of our Lord in our preaching either.

But if we forsake the reality of Christ’s ascension and eternal reign in power, then we prevent ourselves from a great deal of comfort that is there for us in Holy Scripture. For when we say that Christ is now “seated at the right hand of God,” we do not mean that Jesus has left us or that He is no longer with His church. Nothing could ever be further from the truth. Jesus Himself promised us, “Wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). True, we cannot see this reality with the naked eye, but by faith and the working of the Holy Spirit, we confess it as the truth. Christ is here, present in this congregation, and everywhere where Christians have gathered together in His name to hear His Word preached and to receive His sacraments.

And you believe this. At least, I hope you believe this, for this is why you are gathered here today, is it not? If Christ were locked up in heaven away from His church, would you still want to be here? If Christ really was not Lord of Lords, King of Kings, ruling over the earth, would you find comfort in his ascension into heaven?

I don’t think so. If we didn’t believe Christ was here, in this place, then we should be just like the rest of the disciples, staring up into the sky, asking for Jesus to come back immediately. After all, if Christ is not with His church, then what are we doing here? If Christ is not here with His church, then all we are doing by gathering together is having a memorial service in memory of our long distant Savior.

As Luther would say, “No God like that for me!”1 I want a God and Lord who is not distant and unconcerned about me, but a Lord who is present with me, and not just “spiritually,” but One who can and is truly present with me even to give me His body and blood for the forgiveness of my sins.

Thankfully, we have such a Lord and Savior. This is what St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:9–10, “Christ the one who descended into the lower parts of the earth is also the One who has ascended far above all the heavens, in order that He might fill all things.” In other words, Jesus did not ascend to be up there and not here, Jesus ascended that He might be everywhere and rule over His church in all places.

Therefore, our Lord can be with us at every altar in each of our congregations, even as there are congregations across our Synod gathering at this very moment to commemorate our Lord’s ascension. For this is the promise He left at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Here, we take Jesus at His word. He does not lie. He remains with His Church, even in these dark and latter times where the world seems to fall apart.

Not only this, but He is now presently reigning as our King, having all things placed under His feet. This, of course, seems problematic to us. If Christ is reigning, then why is the world so evil? Why haven’t things been put right? The writer of Hebrews even acknowledges the problem when he writes, “In placing everything in subjection under Christ, He left nothing that is not subjected to Him. But now we do not yet see all things under Him” (Hebrews 2:8). So why has Christ not simply fixed the world?

This is has to do with the the goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering of God. God, because of His gracious and loving character is slow to wrath. This means that He does not always punish evil right away. He does this because He desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). For the saints of God, this means that sometimes we have to endure evil and must suffer in this world. Yet, in this we remember that Jesus is our model of forbearance and longsuffering. Even on the cross, He prayed for the forgiveness of those who did evil things to Him unjustly.

Yet, while we bear the cross and wait for the full revelation of our Lord’s reign at the right hand of God, while we wait for the last day when He shall return on the cloud and every eye shall see Him, we can also take refuge in knowing that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is not just acting as our good King, but also as our Great High Priest.

For when Christ ascended into heaven, He also ascended into the true heavenly temple which is not made with human hands. There, He is now interceding between us and God as our great high priest. As He offered up Himself as a pure and holy sacrifice to God in order to make payment and satisfaction for our sins, so He continues to care for His Church. And He does not do so only for a limited time, rather, because He lives forever, He now carries out an eternal priesthood (Hebrews 7:24).

Thus we can take solace in knowing that whatever happens in our lives, whatever evil may befall us, whatever changes time might bring to our communities, our country, or the world, Christ Jesus remains the same today, yesterday, and forever. He is ruling and reigning and preserving His church until the end of time.

And in addition to being our King and High Priest, He also ascended in order that He might give gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8; Psalm 68:18). The disciples did not understand this at first. This is why He had to teach the disciples in the upper room that it would be to their benefit that He would go away, as we have heard these last few weeks. He promised to send them the Helper or the Paraclete who is the Holy Spirit. And in sending them the Holy Spirit, they would also be clothed with power from on high on Pentecost.

Thus, the Psalm says, “When Christ ascended on high, He took captivity captive and He gave gifts to men” (Psalm 68:18). Christ, by His death, resurrection, and ascension not only has delivered us from the captivity of sin, death, and the devil, but He has also left gifts for His Church. He gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in order that they might build up the body of Christ through their ministry. Christ therefore shows Himself to be the true Elijah, who having ascended into heaven now casts His mantle upon His ministers that He may continue His ministry among His own people.

So now Christ works through His ministers. They speak in the stead and by the authority of Jesus Christ. They preach repentance and forgiveness of sins even as Christ preached both Law and Gospel. They baptize sinners in the Triune name according to the command of Christ. They hand out the Lord’s Supper, the very body and blood of Jesus, according to His command, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). There, through His pastors and their ministry, Jesus remains present with His Church. As Elisha carried on the ministry of Elijah, so also pastors carry on the ministry of Jesus.

So, dearly beloved, we do not have to be like the disciples staring up into heaven, wondering when our Lord will return. We do not have to be anxious or worry. For on this day we remember that our Lord Jesus Christ is now at the strong right hand of the Father. He reigns as king. He intercedes as our priest. He works through His apostles, pastors, and ministers. He is here, where two or three are gathered in His name, and He will remain with us until the very end of the age, until He comes to bring us eternal life.

So let us not lose heart, or give into despair. For our very flesh and blood is now dwelling in heaven. For when Christ ascended, He did not bring just His divinity with Him, but ascended bodily. And where the head is, so shall be the body. Where the Husband is, so shall be the bride. Where Christ is, so shall be the Church. Where your Savior is, so shall you be.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

  1. “If you could show me one place where God is and not the man, then the person is already divided and I could at once say truthfully, “Here is God who is not man and has never become man.” But no God like that for me! For it would follow from this that space and place had separated the two natures from one another and thus had divided the person, even though death and all the devils had been unable to separate and tear them apart. This would leave me a poor sort of Christ, if he were present only at one single place, as a divine and human person, and if at all other places he had to be nothing more than a mere isolated God and a divine person without the humanity. No, comrade, wherever you place God for me, you must also place the humanity for me. They simply will not let themselves be separated and divided from each other.” Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, AE 37:218–19. ↩︎