Good Shepherd Ev. Lutheran, Sioux Falls, SD
Celebration of the Ascension of our Lord—May 28, 2017
Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:9-20, Luke 24:45-53, Acts 1:4-11
I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS
In our first reading, Jesus is going to make a promise which I hope brings you much comfort. It also is meant to get you curious. The promise is, “And I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I hope that comforts you and makes you curious enough to ask, “How?” When Jesus said, “I will be with you always?”, in what way exactly? The answer is, he’s going to be right here with you, all the time, with his divinity AND his human body. How do you know? Because when Jesus said, “I will be with you always”, the Jesus who said that was standing there with his human body, as well as his divinity. He did not say, “I will be with you with my divine nature only.” No, he said, “I”, the God-man standing before you… “will be with you always.”
So in curiosity you might ask, “Then shouldn’t I be able to see him? If he’s with me with his body, shouldn’t I be able to see him?”
Theologians are also a curious lot and have asked this same question. And so they have taken all the passages that talk about Jesus’ body and they’ve noticed that when the Bible talks about Jesus’ body being in places, it talks in at least two ways, or modes of his body being in places.
The first one is called the “comprehensible bodily mode.” That’s the phrase used in the Formula of Concord, one of our Lutheran confessions of faith. “Comprehensible bodily mode” refers to the times when Jesus’ body, like any body, took up space. Like when he walked on this earth visibly, or sat in a boat, or hung on the cross. And how he will appear on the Last Day. That’s the comprehensible bodily mode.
The second way is called “the incomprehensible spiritual mode” of his body. Times when his body did not take up space but nevertheless remains a real body. Like when he got his body out of the grave on Easter Sunday morning BEFORE the stone was rolled away. Or when he suddenly appeared to his disciples Easter Sunday evening in the upper room even though the doors were locked. His body got through the doors somehow, and make no mistake–it was his real body—remember how he asked them if they had anything to eat? But at the same time, his body did not take up space like before, otherwise, he could not have gotten his body through those doors. But it was his real body. This is called the “incomprehensible spiritual mode” of his body. Btw, this is also how his real body and blood are really in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, even though his body and blood are not taking up space.
And this is how he is with us when he said, “And I am with you always, to the very end of the age”—not just with his divine nature, but with his body, too. This is meant to comfort you and me. Because he’s one of us—it’s a human being who is “with you always.” Very comforting. It’s like when your friends say, “I’ve got your back.” But he’s also God—so he can do things for us that none of our other friends could ever do. And he does, 24/7
The biggest thing he does for us is forgive our sins 24/7. In light of the fact that he “is with us always”, you know what the second craziest thing you could do is? Try to hide your sin from him, refuse to confess any of your sin. After all, he’s with you 24/7 and has a front row seat to everything you do, think, and say. Anyone who thinks you can hide something from Jesus is crazy.
But you know what’s even crazier than trying thinking you can hide your sin from Jesus and not confess it? Wanting to hide your sin from Jesus. How crazy is that? Because this is the Jesus who used his body, his human and divine body, to pay for all your sins on the cross, proved it by his resurrection. Because he means not just to stick to you like glue and always be with you in this life, but he means to do that for all eternity, too.
Hear now Matthew’s account of the ascension of our Lord.
CHRIST IS RECLAIMING WHAT IS HIS
In the second reading, before Jesus ascends he tells the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” To all creation. Because he means to take all creation back. For it was lost to him. Lost when humanity turned its back on Christ in the Garden and decided to hold hands with the devil.
He means to take it back. But not by force. But by grace. And so he parachuted into this enemy territory in the form of a naked little baby, who was then wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn. And he grew up. And as the perfect man, he took back what was his. But not by force, by armies, by the shedding of the blood of soldiers. But by grace, the shedding of his own blood, on the cross, a payment for all sin. And rising from the dead to prove he had paid for all sin. “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation,” he insisted. To all creation.
And that includes you and me. For we are part of creation. If you refuse to listen to the preaching of his Word, he won’t force you. You have the inalienable right to go to hell in handbasket. But that’s not what he wants. What he wants is your soul, your sin, your time, your body, your job, your marriage, your divorce, your parties, your funerals, your children, your friends, your money, your sorrow, your sweet times, your death, your grave, your music, your video games, your hormones, your memories—he means to lay claim to it all.
Which is a rather personal thing, isn’t it. He means to get very personal with you, with me. Which is why, immediately after he speaks about “all creation”, he switches to the singular and speaks about one person—you. He says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Whoever is singular. Whoever refers to one person. Jesus said “whoever” because he wants you to mentally insert your own name in that passage. And draw the appropriate conclusion.
Listen for this, now, as we hear the Ascension account as recorded in the last 11 verses of the gospel of Mark.
WE HAVE AS MUCH JOY AS WE HAVE FAITH
In this reading, listen for the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ ascending. It is very odd. This time, I will read the lesson and then let us reflect on the disciples’ reaction.
Did you notice their reaction? Joy. “They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Doesn’t that seem odd. They will no longer see Jesus’ visibly in his comprehensible bodily mode, no longer get to have him sit across from them and ask him questions, no longer get to hide behind him when the Jewish leaders are threatening. And they are happy about this?
How do you account for their odd reaction? Well apparently they were finally doing what Jesus, as well as the Father, had told them a gazillion times—listen to him. They listened! And took Jesus’ words seriously. Took seriously that Jesus would always be with them with is incomprehensible spiritual mode of being; that he would send the HS to fill in the blanks for them; that school was finally out and now it was time to be fulltime pastors and start the New Testament church. Good reasons to be happy.
So, maybe the disciples’ reaction is not so odd. Because this is a truism of the Christian life—the more closely you listen to the Word and use it during the week, reminding yourself of what he has promised you in his Word, the more joy you have. As Luther himself once observed, “We have as much joy as we have faith.”
HE’S COMING BACK
Ascension Day and the Last Day go together like butter on bread. Because the fact that Christ ascended and we can’t see him means that he is returning on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, as the angels say in our reading.
So his ascension means we need to grow in one of the most basic elements in any relationship—trust. Because we can’t see Jesus. So we must grow in trusting what we can see and hear—his Word and his Sacraments. Learning by the power of the HS to trust what he says in his Word and Sacraments more than we trust our eyes or feelings or movies or songs or science professor. For trust is the most basic element in any relationship, isn’t it. So Christ’s ascension makes clear how important it is, in the middle of all the busyness of life, to make spending time in the Word your top priority, putting forth effort in worship to listen and review and learn, committing to going to this or that Bible class. For that is how the Holy Spirit will make your trust in Christ grow.
And the fact that Christ is going to return on the Last Day means that we need to grow in sharing what we learn in his Word. After all, this is one of the reasons you and I are still alive and kicking—so Christ can use us to share his gospel. Because while we all like to talk about what we are going to do tomorrow, one day there will be no tomorrow. And the only thing that will matter is can you answer this question—why should God let a sinner like you into his perfect, joyful heaven? And there are a lot of people who cannot answer that question correctly. Who will point to anything and everything…except Christ. And so will be damned. For all eternity. And, as someone once said, eternity is a long time.
Ascension Day and the Last Day go together like butter on bread. Because the fact that Christ ascended and we can’t see him means that he is returning on the Last Day, as the angels say in our reading.