John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This past Thursday marked forty days since the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, a day the Church commemorates as the Feast of the Ascension. Though we did not gather here that day, we are commemorating and celebrating Jesus’ Ascension as part of today’s Divine Service. It is truly a shame that much of the Christian Church does not celebrate the Ascension on its actual day, since it is always a Thursday and in the middle of the work week, for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord is no minor festival. Indeed, it is as key and crucial to our faith, life, and salvation as is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord. Jesus’ Ascension has serious meaning and implications for us.
First and foremost, Jesus’ Ascension is His coronation as King of the universe. Jesus is not merely King of the Jews, as the sentence against Him proclaimed as He hung on the cross, but Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Moreover, Jesus shares His kingship with you for whom He died. For, it is your flesh that He has assumed and redeemed, and it is your flesh that was raised from death and has ascended. Indeed, it is a man, the True Man, who sits at the right hand of God the Father, in the fullness of His glorious and holy presence, interceding for you, as flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. Therefore, the Ascension of Our Lord is the Ascension of Man; it is your ascension – the sign, guarantee, and living proof that you have been redeemed, forgiven, justified, and restored to sonship and communion with God.
And yet, the Ascension of Our Lord means even more than that. For, to where, and to whom, has He ascended, but to the right hand of the Father in heaven? However, the right hand of the Father is no more a physical location in space and time than does our spiritual Father have a physical right hand, but the right hand of the Father is a designation of favored status given to Jesus, who has done all things well, who has now ascended beyond space and time, that He might fill all things. Thus, you have something which the Apostles and disciples, who ate and drank with Jesus and listened to His teachings from His own mouth with their own ears, could only dream of – you have Jesus present with you, in communion with you, all the time! For, you are baptized into His death and resurrection, and you eat and drink His flesh and blood so that you may remain in Him, and He in you, that you may bear much fruit.
For, it is not that Jesus is there and therefore cannot be here, but it is that He is there, and here, and everywhere. However, He is not present as a disembodied spirit, as a ghost, or as energy, as many believe, but He is present in His resurrected and glorified flesh and blood body and soul, as True God and True Man. He is present incarnationally and sacramentally, in His Word and in His Sacraments, that you may hear, see, touch, taste, wear, eat, drink, and commune with and in flesh and blood and bone. How? By the power that enables Him to subdue all things unto Himself. Why should you believe this? Because it is the Word and the promise of God. This Word is Truth, beyond all reason, wisdom, and understanding of men. If it is difficult to understand, it is none the less True. If it confounds or conflicts your reason, it is none the less True. If it is a mystery too bright to behold, too deep to plumb, it is none the less True. For, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, and Jesus is the Truth and the only path to God.
Therefore, after His Ascension, He poured out upon His Church the Holy Spirit of God, just as He promised, to help and counsel and comfort you, and to guide you to the Truth, to Jesus. The Holy Spirit bears witness about Jesus. He creates faith in you, and sustains and keeps you in the True Faith. The Holy Spirit makes you to be witnesses to Jesus, that is, martyrs for Jesus, holding to and professing God’s Truth even amidst the scorn, disdain, and persecution of the world. For, a witness is a martyr – literally, that’s what the Greek word translated as witness in the Scriptures means. And, you are martyrs for and because of Jesus when you die to yourself and live for others and for Him. You die to yourself by placing the needs of others before your own. You die to yourself by putting away selfishness, jealousy, and greed, anger and thoughts of revenge. You die to yourself when, instead of acting selfishly, you are self-controlled and sober-minded, loving one another earnestly, showing hospitality to one another without grumbling, serving one another and using the gifts and blessings God has given you for the benefit of others to the glory of God. And, when the fiery trial comes upon you, receive it as a test and find your strength in Jesus, whose sufferings you share in, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.
And, since it is Mother’s Day, permit me to use motherhood as an object-lesson of the selfless, self-sacrificial love that you are all called to through faith in Jesus Christ. It goes without saying that mothers are both receivers and givers of life. For, a woman only becomes a mother when she receives a living seed that comes from outside of her. However, when that seed is received, in accordance with the Lord’s will, she conceives and is made to be a partner in giving life – she is made to be fruitful, and her own body and life is given in selfless service to the nourishment, protection, and development of that new life. In this way, motherhood is an object and an example of Christian faith and love which is expressed outward, not inward, for the sake of others, to the glory of God. Indeed, this is why the Church reveres and holds Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, in veneration, for she selflessly received the gift of life in God’s Word, believing it, even though she did not fully understand it, and kept it in accordance with God’s Will.
Yet, motherhood is but one object and example out of many. For, as not all women are or will become mothers, you Christians will not all witness, serve, and glorify God in Christ Jesus in the same way. There are as many ways to serve others and to suffer with Christ as there are brothers, sisters, neighbors, and enemies to lay down your life for in selfless, sacrificial love and service. Therefore, today we give thanks to God for the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ and for the promised sending of His Holy Spirit to call, enlighten, sanctify, and keep us in faith in Jesus Christ, even as we give thanks to Him for the gift of motherhood through which He gives us life and blesses us with His rich gifts, providing us an example of the selfless, sacrificial love He calls us to in Jesus. And, we give thanks for God’s Word, which is Truth and Life, and for His gifts of the Holy Sacraments, through which we are brought to faith, are sanctified and kept in faith, are nourished and strengthened in faith, and are richly and daily forgiven our sins that we may love, as we have been loved, laying down our lives for any and all whom God sets before us, to the glory of His Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.