“Ascension Joy” (Luke 24:44-53)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 30, 2019

“Ascension Joy” (Luke 24:44-53)

How did you feel about going to church this evening? Were you happy and excited? If you were happy, were you more excited about the service or the ice cream social afterward? C’mon, admit it! No, seriously, did coming to an Ascension service tonight spark joy for you? Or were you instead a little grumpy about having to go to church on a Thursday night? Did you focus on the joy of being able to be in the presence of God, to hear his Word and receive the blessed Sacrament? Or did you complain about one more thing being added to your schedule? You see, you can take the same event, and people can have different reactions to it.

Likewise, when people experience an event that’s similar to one they had just experienced a short time before, those same people can have two entirely different responses. Take, for example, the response of the disciples at the time of the Ascension and compare that to how they responded just a few weeks earlier. At the Ascension, when Jesus “parted from them and was carried up into heaven,” the disciples “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”

But then contrast that with how they reacted just a few weeks earlier. Go back six weeks to Maundy Thursday. How did the disciples respond then? That was when Jesus told them he was about to leave, that he was going away. At that time, their hearts were filled with grief. They were sad. And then when Jesus was taken from them–in the arrest and trial, in the crucifixion and his death–they were completely downcast and crushed. And frightened, too. “If that’s what happened to Jesus, then what’s going to happen to us, we who are known to have been his followers?” Right after Jesus’ death, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem at that time, too. But there was no worship then, no great joy. They were not at the temple, praising God. No, they had locked themselves behind closed doors, for fear of the Jews.

Two similar situations, just six weeks apart. In both cases, Jesus was leaving them and going away. But these same disciples reacted totally differently. The one time, with fear and sadness. The next time, with great joy and praise. What made the difference? And what will make the difference for us, to move us from our ordinary grumpiness into “Ascension Joy”?

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Published in: on May 30, 2019 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Ascension: Past, Present, and Future” (Ephesians 1:15-23)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 10, 2018

“The Ascension: Past, Present, and Future” (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Today we’re having church on a Thursday. That’s because we’re celebrating the Ascension of Our Lord, a major festival in the church year that always falls on a Thursday. And that’s because the event it celebrates came forty days after Easter. It was that marvelous occasion when our Lord Jesus Christ, after his resurrection, ascended into heaven. And tonight we will see that this great event connects, ties together, the past, the present, and the future work of Christ. Because it does, our Lord’s ascension has great importance for us, for our past, present, and our future. And so our theme tonight: “The Ascension: Past, Present, and Future.”

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Published in: on May 10, 2018 at 1:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Ascension Day, the Forgotten Festival” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 25, 2017

“Ascension Day, the Forgotten Festival” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

Welcome to the Forgotten Festival! Today is Ascension Day, or, as it’s more properly called, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. But there is reason to call it, as I say, the “Forgotten” Festival. Because even though Ascension Day is classed in the church year as a major festival, which means it’s a day for all churches to hold the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament, the sad fact is that in recent decades many congregations and many Christians have forgotten all about celebrating this important festival.

It used to be that you could go to any Lutheran church–or any liturgical church, for that matter, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran–and they would have Ascension service on this day. But with the decline of Christian culture in our country, it’s pretty hard to find churches that are having service today. And where you do, it’s usually only the hardy few who turn out. You see, by definition the Ascension of Our Lord always comes forty days after Easter, which means it always falls on a Thursday. And it’s hard enough these days to get people to come to church on a Sunday, let alone on a Thursday.

By the way, there is another major festival in the church year that likewise has fallen on hard times, and that is the Epiphany of Our Lord. Epiphany is twelve days after Christmas, thus it always falls on January 6, which means it almost always falls on a day other than Sunday. Besides which, early January is cold and dark, and that cuts down even further on attendance. So I guess we could say that Epiphany and Ascension are the two Forgotten Festivals.

But happily, we do not forget these festivals here at St. Matthew’s! And today, being Ascension Day, I want you to know why we do not forget this day. For the Ascension of Our Lord is a wonderful, marvelous event, deserving of a day all its own. My goodness, the fact that Christ “ascended into heaven” even rates a line in all three of the ecumenical creeds! Tonight, then, I want to tell you why we remember and rejoice in the Ascension of Our Lord.

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Published in: on May 25, 2017 at 8:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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“The Past, Present, and Future of the Ascension” (Luke 24:44-53; Ephesians 1:15-23; Acts 1:1-11)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 14, 2015

“The Past, Present, and Future of the Ascension” (Luke 24:44-53; Ephesians 1:15-23; Acts 1:1-11)

“He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” That’s what we just confessed about our Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t it? This portion of the Apostles’ Creed captures what this day, Ascension Day, is all about. These three things: He ascended into heaven. He sits at the right hand of the Father. And he will come again. A past act. A present reality. And a future hope. And all of these things are good news for you. So now let’s consider these blessed truths, under the theme: “The Past, Present, and Future of the Ascension.”

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Published in: on May 14, 2015 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“All Things under His Feet” (Ephesians 1:15-23)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 29, 2014

“All Things under His Feet” (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Today is the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, always forty days after Easter, thus always on a Thursday. On Ascension Day we celebrate what Christ’s ascending into heaven means for us as the church. It means many things, certainly, and we could focus on many aspects of this great event: For instance, on how, after his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures, that they are fulfilled in his death and resurrection, and how he told them to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. Or, to use another example, we could focus on how Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit upon the church, to empower our mission to the world. Or how, upon ascending, Jesus lifted up his hands to bless the church. Or how the angels announced that this same Jesus will come again. And so on. All these are legitimate Ascension Day themes.

But tonight I want to focus on another aspect related to Christ’s ascension. And that is, on what Christ is doing now, now that he has, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” And to do that, we’ll look at a portion of the Epistle reading for Ascension Day, from Ephesians 1, where St. Paul says that God the Father raised Christ from the dead and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.”

Ascended into heaven, seated at God’s right hand, with “All Things under His Feet.” That gets at what Christ is doing right now, on behalf of us, his church.

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Published in: on May 29, 2014 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“What to Preach and Where to Reach” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 17, 2012

“What to Preach and Where to Reach” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

Today is Ascension Day, that glorious day when our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, where he now sits at the right hand of the Father and from where he will come again on the last day. Ascension Day, which occurred forty days after Easter and thus on a Thursday, which is why we always have service on this day of the week at this time of the year. The Ascension of Our Lord is a major festival in the church year, because it marks such a momentous event.

Forty days after Easter. During those forty days, the risen Christ appeared to his disciples a number of times, speaking, as it says, about the kingdom of God. Christ was preparing his apostles for what he would be sending them out to do after he ascended. He had a mission for them to carry out. This is the church’s mission still to this day. And Jesus gives us everything we need to carry out this mission. What Jesus did to prepare and empower the apostles he does now for us. So what we hear Jesus saying in our readings today from Luke and Acts–this applies to our churches in our day. Our Lord’s marching orders, and the power to carry them out, are still the same.

St. Luke is the one who tells us much about this, both in the ending of his gospel and at the beginning of his second book, the Acts of the Apostles. In Luke 24 and in Acts chapter 1, we hear Jesus telling the church two things: “What to Preach and Where to Reach.”

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Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“A Place for Jim” (John 14:1-6)

Funeral Service
The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 17, 2012

“A Place for Jim” (John 14:1-6)

When someone we love leaves us, it can be very painful for us. Our heart aches. That person we know and love is no longer with us, and we miss him. That’s what we’re experiencing now with our brother Jim. We miss him now, and we will continue to miss him. Husband, father, friend, fellow church member–Jim Stewart was someone we got to know, and we liked him, and now he won’t be around anymore to share our company. That hurts, and understandably so. Even when we had months to get ready for this week–we knew Jim’s cancer was terminal–even so, it doesn’t take away the loss we feel at this time.

Death stinks. Death and disease, the dying process, the whole miserable lot we experience in this life–and lurking around in the back of our mind is that what happened to Jim will happen to us, too, in one form or another. Life here is only temporary. There will be other mourners in the future, except they’ll be attending our funeral. It’s on days like this that the reality of this whole sorry mess jumps out at us. And it is disturbing.

But maybe that’s why it is a comforting coincidence, in a way, that Jim’s funeral should occur on this particular day. “What, May 17,” you say, “what’s so special about that?” Well, nothing, really. But today happens to be forty days after Easter, which means that it’s Ascension Day. And the reality of Christ’s resurrection and his ascension into heaven and what will happen when he comes back to take us home–it is all this that gives us comfort in the face of death, Jim’s and our own. For on this Ascension Day, we’re reminded of why our Lord Jesus Christ died and rose and ascended and is coming again, and that is, as Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” This is the promise that will sustain us through all the difficulties and loss we experience in life. And so it is when we consider the sadness we feel right now. We take comfort in knowing that Jesus was going to prepare “A Place for Jim.”

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Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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