Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
For some years now, wherever I have served as pastor, we have observed the Ascension of our Lord on the Sunday before Pentecost. In fact, the Ascension of our Lord falls three days earlier, on a Thursday, ten days before Pentecost. Years ago, most Lutheran congregations celebrated the Ascension of our Lord on Ascension Day. This practice has largely died out, though I was able to attend an Ascension Day service at Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston last year. This year, we will be celebrating the Ascension of our Lord at Trinity on its proper date, Thursday, May 25.
What’s the big deal about Christ’s ascension? Jesus went to heaven. He’s gone. We know that. We can’t see him. He’s left us the Bible, we can talk about him, we can pray to him, and the Holy Spirit is here with us, but Jesus is gone. Isn’t he?
That’s not what the Bible says, just before Jesus ascended into heaven he said to his disciples, “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” St. Paul describes Christ’s ascension into heaven by saying that he fills all things. Jesus did not ascend into heaven to be absent from us. He ascended into heaven to be present with us.
Jesus is true man and true God. God is present everywhere. Since Jesus is God, he is present everywhere. But is his humanity also present everywhere? By all means! You cannot strip Christ’s humanity away from his deity as if there are two Christs, one who is God and the other who is a man. There is but one Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man. Since God is present everywhere, and since Jesus is God, Jesus – true God and true man – is present everywhere. Wherever God is, there is the man Jesus.
Heaven isn’t a place up in the sky above the stars where Jesus is stuck, far away from us. Heaven is where God is. Heaven is as close to us as Christ is. Whenever he speaks and we listen; whenever he feeds us with his body and blood in the Sacrament; whenever the church is gathered together by the Holy Spirit to be fed by Christ the Good Shepherd, there heaven and earth meet. Christ’s ascension guarantees his presence with us. His ascension prefigures our own. When this world is destroyed, we won’t be destroyed with it. We will be taken into the presence of God where we will enjoy eternal love, peace, and happiness in the new heavens and the new earth.
I invite you to church on Thursday, May 25, at 6:15, at Trinity. St. John members are welcome to attend! We will follow the order of Vespers. Come and bring a friend. I can’t think of a greater gesture of friendship than to invite a friend to church!
Your brother in Christ,