Ascension Day – Vicar Ferguson
In the name of Jesus.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. This is the feast in which we remember the time when our Lord was taken up to heaven and seated at the right hand of God the Father. How did we get here? The feast of the Ascension is tied to Easter and Pentecost. Pentecost is 50 days after Easter, and Ascension is 10 days before Pentecost and, if you do the math, 40 days after Easter.
Our Lord, in the 40 days since Easter, has spent time with the disciples and others continuing his teaching to them and breaking bread on the Emmaus Road. Life is good for the disciples. Their Lord has returned to life from the dead, he has forgiven their sins and restored them to their offices as disciples. Then Jesus goes and takes them to Bethany, and blesses them, and is taken up in a cloud to heaven. The disciples stand there staring up at the sky and are dazed and confused. An angel comes and asks them what they are doing, and then tells them that Jesus will return in the same way as he went. After hearing this they worshiped him, and went into Jerusalem with great joy, constantly blessing God in the Temple.
The apostles by returning to the city are doing as Jesus commanded them. Jesus tells them to stay in the city until they’re clothed with power from on high. Jesus here speaks of Pentecost. The sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a matter of homiletical importance. For it is the Spirit who is sent that causes the apostles to preach the word to the faithful who gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. The Spirit will guide the apostles into the way of all truth. The Spirit is another comforter and a helper for the faithful disciples who preach.
What do they preach? Where do they find their content? What fills the sermons that they deliver to the church of God’s people? The Word of God—the scriptures of the prophets now fleshed out by the Lord’s ministry. They were with the Lord eyewitnesses of everything from his baptism to his death, resurrection, and ascension. Our Gospel opens, “Then he [Jesus] said to them, these are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” St. Luke when writing his Gospel tells us his gospel is entirely based on eye-witness accounts of those who followed Jesus his entire 3 year ministry. The Apostles deliver the teachings of Jesus to the faithful church.
The Ascension is a feast in which we celebrate the promised sending of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. The Holy Spirit would come to the apostles so that they would deliver to the church the things of God. The preaching of the apostles is a great gift and is given to the church through the command of Christ.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he reviews with the disciples what he has taught them over the last few years. This is like Moses before he died, giving the people of Israel the CliffsNotes version of the history of the people of God. Jesus, just before he ascends into heaven, gives the Apostles a brief recap of what happened and why it happened. Jesus tells them that what happened to him was foretold by Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. That is to say that the entire Old Testament with a unified voice testifies to the work of Jesus. It was written that Christ is to suffer, and to raise from the dead on the third day. Why did this happen? This happened because it was necessary to happen. It was written and it was fulfilled by Jesus.
The apostles are commissioned to preach to the people of God concerning repentance and the remission of sins. They are sent to preach in the name of Jesus these things that they have received form him.
After these final instructions to the disciples Jesus takes them out of the city to Bethany, the very place where he, not too long before, raised Lazarus from the dead. He blessed them and was parted from them. The disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing the Lord. What a change! 40 days ago, when Jesus was taken from them to be crucified, they fled and were in fear for their lives. Now when Jesus was parted from them, they rejoice and continually worship God. Why? What is different between then and now? One significant difference is that Jesus leaves his blessing on them. The Lord of heaven and earth blesses the disciples. Incontestably, they are his own, blessed and loved. At the crucifixion the shepherd was struck and the sheep fled. Now, the Shepherd blesses the sheep as he assumes the place of power and honor, seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
And this is the source of the apostles’ joy. The sorrow of the Emmaus Road, the fear of the upper room, all of this is gone. The crucified one is not only risen, he has ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Majesty as Lord of all creation, which grants his chosen disciples the greatest joy and peace.
Which is the source of our joy and celebration tonight. As the angels told the eyewitnesses of the Ascension: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” This changes everything! All the sorrows and trials of this life will make sense and find a joyful end when our Lord returns as promised. To which we add our gladness “Amen!, Come Lord Jesus.”
In his Name. Amen