Ascension: Jesus is Gone into Heaven.  Now What?

This is our pastor’s article for the May edition of our newsletter.

 

This year, Ascension Day falls a May 3rd.  Such a neglected and almost-forgotten festival.  Consider how few congregations celebrate this day on Thursday, its actual day.  For Jesus going to heaven’s throne almost lacks a sense of the heroic victory of a tomb cracked open, shorn of its power!  So, does the Ascension, so quiet and understated, matter?

After rising from death, Jesus spends 40 days with disciples, turned Apostles.  Soon, they will become the foundation for His Church (Ephesians 2:20).  To do this, they still must learn before Jesus returns to His Father.  Also, He will need to give them their “marching orders,” their pastoral duties.

These responsibilities are, in chronological order, to administer His Supper (Matthew 26:26-28), forgive and retain sins (John 20:22-23), preach (Luke 24:47), and baptize and teach (Matthew 28:19-20).  So they can do this, He will not leave them helpless.  For He will not only grant them the Holy Spirit but be with them as they carry out His Word-and-Sacrament ministry until He returns.

Now finished, Jesus rises upward to His heavenly throne, disappearing before His disciples.  A pall of fear and depression may now swoop down and descend on them.  Didn’t this happen after Jesus died, when He left them before?

The Lord Jesus, however, does not forsake them.  To do the tasks Jesus commands, He assures them, “I will be with you always.”  In other words, He is telling them, “Don’t worry because I ‘got’ your back.  Be faithful in what I give you to do.”

Neither does Jesus desert us, for this is not our Redeemer’s way.  No, He continues to be with His people as He promises.  For when Christ ascends, going back to His glory above, He doesn’t only choose to be those whom He “apostled.”  No, He will also be every believer, for He “dwells in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17).  “Never will I leave you or abandon you,” God comforts us (Hebrews 13:5).

Think about Easter day, when Mary Magdalene wants to hug Jesus.  Stern-sounding words sound forth from Jesus.  “Don’t cling to me because I haven’t yet gone up to my Father” (John 20:17).  What?  Either Mary touching Jesus will prevent Him from returning to heaven, or she can touch Jesus in another way after He seats Himself again on His royal throne.

Well, others touched the resurrected Jesus.  So our Lord’s point is not to contact Him in some way.  No, He’s directing Mary to where she may hold on to Him after He goes away from her sight!

Like us, while still in His state of “humiliation,” before going back to heaven, Jesus cannot be in two places at the same instant.  So, when He is traveling in Galilee, He can’t be in Judea, and when on a boat, He isn’t walking on the shore.

Not so now, for Christ can be anywhere, at any moment.  For being at the right hand of God removes His earlier constraints, enabling Him again to be omnipresent.  How so?  After our Savior ascended, He is now seated “far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion” (Ephesians 1:21).

So, this is why Jesus can promise to be with His Apostles, each wherever he may be, as he preaches, teaches, baptizes, absolves sins, and administers communion.  The natural laws of the universe, which restrain us, no longer constrain Christ.

After completing His saving work, again in glorious divinity, something changes—for the better.  The ascended Lord isn’t only divine but also remains human.  Let’s ponder what this may mean to Mary.  Where do you think her risen Rabbi is guiding her to come to Him, as both God and Man?  In His Church, where Christ pledges to be, where He will touch her with His grace in His sacred Meal.  For as He states, He will later bring Himself to her in His body and blood.  In His meal, she will experience a physical Jesus, where she may cling to Him for life and salvation.

So, an ascended Jesus is still and can be present among us.  In His New Covenant, He comes to you through Word and Sacrament.  Not done, He also now resides inside you.  For Jesus for you also means Jesus in you.  The one comes with the other.

What a comfort this is for us, like also for Mary near the tomb.  This assurance is not a “thing” or a “commodity” but a Person, Christ Himself.  Yes, His Ascension provides us with much solace before we ascend to our eternal home in heaven.

Yes, our risen and ascended Lord can be with us, which means we are always in His care and keeping.  So, the Ascension is not a mere afterthought but shows us Jesus is with every Christian in every place and time.

Today, our ever-present Lord approaches us in His Word, preached and taught, and also in His Sacraments.  Implanted with faith by the Spirit working through these “means of grace,” Jesus takes His dwelling within you.  All this is true because He ascended into heaven with all authority and power.  Amen.

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