The Ascension of Our Lord [Transferred]
“Uplifting Hands in Blessing”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Luke 24.44-53
29 May 2022
Soli Deo Gloria!
Picture the scene as Jesus ascends to the Father. His hands are raised in blessing. Hands with the marks of the nails of the cross. Without the cross, there can be no blessing. This is why the sign of the cross is made with the blessing whenever the blessing is spoken in the DS, whether at the end of the distribution or at the very end of the DS.
Jesus’ Ascension means that there is blessing for you. Unlike those who deny his Real Presence in the Sacrament—they have a different Christ!—Jesus has not left us. He is not locked up in heaven! He is not absent! In Matthew’s Gospel, these are the words Jesus spoke to the disciples at his Ascension:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
How could Jesus be with people everywhere at the same time throughout the ages if he is confined to heaven? That’s the dilemma of the Reformed. They have a different Christ. How he can be present according to his flesh everywhere at the same time we cannot really comprehend, but we believe it because Jesus said so. It is no different than believing that he gives us his true body and blood in the Sacrament. We believe it for the same reason—because he said so!
Luke writes that Jesus “was carried up into heaven.” Heaven—where is it? Mostly, people point upward. It seems logical because Jesus ascended up through the clouds. Therefore, from a human perspective heaven must be “up there.” Reportedly, the first Soviet cosmonaut, after he had orbited the earth, said that he didn’t see any heaven. We’d expect an atheist to say that. Evidently, the atheist mind thinks that Christ would be hiding just above the clouds in a locally enclosed area. A good Calvinist could say the same thing!
So how can this spatial difficulty be resolved on the basis of Holy Scripture? Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world [John 18.36]. So—Heaven—where is it? It would seem best if we consider this question in connection with the Creed:
“ . . and ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of the Father” [Nicene Creed]
Those two things must always go together. They cannot be separated. To ascend to heaven is to sit at the right hand of the Father. The right hand of the Father is God exercising his whole glorious power. Jesus ascended to this right hand of the Father to fill all things with his glorious power, for the benefit of his Church. That’s how Paul speaks of it when he references the Father’s great power:
20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 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. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. [Ephesians 1:20-23]
The Lutheran Confessors defended the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament this way:
The reasons for our position against the sacramentarians on this matter are those which Dr. Luther set forth in his Great Confession: “The first [reason for his position] is this article of our faith, that Jesus Christ is true, essential, natural, complete God and human being in one person, undivided and inseparable. The second, that the right hand of God is everywhere.” Christ, really and truly placed at this right hand of God according to his human nature, rules presently and has in his hands and under his feet everything in heaven and on earth. No other human being, no angel, but only Mary’s son, is so placed at the right hand of God, and on this basis he is able to do these things. “The third, that the Word of God is not false or deceitful. The fourth that God has and knows various ways to be present at a certain place, not only the single one . . . , which the philosophers call ‘local’ ” or spatial.
Our Lord Jesus did not go away from us. Quite the opposite! He ascended to the right hand of the Father so that he could be closer to us! The consequence of his Ascension is greatest in the life of the Church. His promise to be with us always to the close of the age means that he is present according to his flesh in every Divine Service as he comes to us in his Word and especially in the Sacrament of the Altar. This holy meal is the place where his Ascension has its greatest impact and blessing for us. Here, under bread and wine Christ is truly present according to his flesh to bring you the blessings of his life, death, and resurrection.
Ubi Christus, ibi ecclesia—“Where Christ is, there is the church.” So the ancient Church father Ignatius of Antioch, martyred under Roman Emperor Trajan, ca. a.D. 107, wrote. Wherever Christ is, his Christians are, too. There he comes with hands uplifted in blessing.
Do we really believe it in the Lutheran Church any more? In 1938 Hermann Sasse wrote an essay to Lutheran pastors in which he said:
We see it rather in the fact that we, more often than not, do this work [me: the work of the church] as though Jesus Christ were not really present in his church. That is the secret disbelief which has more deeply and adversely affected the Lutheran Church than any external influences of older or newer paganism. . . . Indeed, we speak in our preaching as though the Lord Christ were present, but our hearers understand it as rhetorical language which we do not take seriously ourselves. Even our good churchly congregations often no longer grasp the full seriousness and comfort of the real presence of the Lord. . . . But by and large we all act in our church as though Jesus Christ were not really present, as though he were further removed from our time than any other age in the history of the church. [The Presence of Christ and the Future of the Church: Concordia Publishing House. The Lonely Way, volume 1, pp. 464f].
Dear friends, may it never be so among us! Every celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar is a celebration of our Lord’s Ascension as much as it is of his crucifixion, death, and resurrection! Our Lord’s Ascension is not his absence but his presence! Here, the glory of his death and resurrection, is hidden in his body and blood. He comes to us here. He comes to you in his body and blood.
What great power Christ has given to his Church by his Ascension! Here is Christ and here is his Church! Here is the power of his forgiveness! Here is life! Here is salvation! And here is the ascended Lord’s power for the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Here Christ’s glory is revealed.
In what Martin Franzmann called “these gray and latter days” [LSB 834.4],the Church is not helpless. Sometimes it must seem that way to us. She appears weak and tottering on the brink of extinction, but it is not true so as long as she has Christ. Our congregations face many challenges. The world assaults Christians physically and spiritually. She seems constantly on the defensive. While much makes for a gloom and doom feeling—one shared by many congregations!—we need to remember, by confessing our sin of pessimism, that our Lord has not abandoned his promise to be with his Church to the end of the age. The Ascension of Our Lord reminds us that all power and authority has been placed into the nail-scarred hands of our Lord Jesus Christ, these same hands uplifted in blessing as he ascended to the right hand of the Father. The Ascension of Our Lord calls us to trust that he has not abandoned his Church but remains with her in the worst of times. He is here to comfort you in your worst of times. He has not left you! He has not left his beloved Bride! He is here, right now. Human emotions like pessimism and even optimism, must not be allowed to rule us. Faith has nothing to do with emotions. Faith is the unshakable trust in the unbreakable promise of God. Believe that Christ is truly present when you hear his Word and receive his Sacrament! Believe that Christ is truly present when you see the pastor’s hands uplifted in blessing and making the sign of the cross. And like the disciples, be filled with great joy, blessing God for all that he has done for you!
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.