29 May 2019†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
Eve of the Ascension of Our Lord†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† Vienna, VA
ďThe King, the Throne, and the KingdomĒ
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53
Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The hymns that we sing for the Ascension of Our Lord are not only filled with joy, but also have a certain stately, royal quality to them. As is meet and right. As is befitting an inauguration or a coronation. Something significant is happening, and the music reflects that.
For the Ascension of Our Lord is the occasion of His enthronement; the coronation of Jesus on the throne of God in heaven. Notice, though, that I did not say the enthronement or coronation of the Son of God - that place on the throne, that place at the Fatherís right hand, was always and rightly the Sonís. But the Son of God came down from heaven and was incarnate, or as we confess in the Creed, He was made man. And not just for a little while, using a human nature for a while and then throwing it away when He was done with it - but forever. The Son of God and our human nature have been permanently and inseparably united in the man Jesus. And so in His Ascension, it is not just Jesusí divinity but also His human nature - our human nature - that is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. What Adam gave up, Christ has restored. What Adam cast down in shame, Christ has lifted up in glory.
Which means that is our brother there, at the right hand of the Father, on the throne of God, ruling all things for our good. And thatís definitely a reason to celebrate and rejoice this night.
And the disciples seem to get that. We heard from Luke tonight that after watching Jesus ascend, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy! They werenít sad that their friend and Master left them, they were overjoyed that His rule and authority would continue.
So with that in mind, this royal enthronement and coronation, they ask Jesus: Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? I think we usually dismiss that question, thinking that the disciples still donít get it! Theyíre still thinking wrongly and about an earthly kingdom. Maybe. But notice that Jesus doesnít scold them or disagree with them. He would have if He thought it necessary. He had before. But Jesus doesnít say No! Iím not restoring the kingdom to Israel! He says this instead: it is not for you to know the times or seasons. Or in other words, He is restoring the kingdom to Israel, but the when - donít worry about that. Instead, He tells them the how. He says: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The disciples were anxious to see Jesus finish what He started. And they will! And we will. As Jesus continues His work from His throne through the Holy Spirit which He gives to His Church, the new Israel. The old Israel was an earthly nation and had its time and place and purpose. But thatís not the Israel Jesus will restore. Jesus made all things new through His death and resurrection, so it is a new Israel that He is now restoring, a spiritual nation, not limited by time or geography, but including peoples of all times and places - past, present, and future.
And this restoring will now take place through them, these disciples now apostles. These followers turned sent ones. Sent out into the world. To the ends of the earth. And through their preaching, the kingdom will be restored and grow, for the Spirit will work through that Word. And so just as when Jesus was with them, the preaching will go on, the forgiving will go on, the baptizing will go on, and the feeding will go on, but now through them. Their now-enthroned Lord working through them by His Spirit. When they speak, He speaks. When they forgive, He forgives. When they baptize, He baptizes. When they give Jesusí Body and Blood, Jesus is giving His own Body and Blood, just as He did on the night He was betrayed. And in this way, yes, the disciples were quite right - Jesus is restoring the kingdom to Israel.
So while the disciples could see their Lord no longer - for when He ascended, we are told, a cloud hid Him from their sight - they could see Him working; they could see the results. Itís like if I come home from work and see the table set and a wonderful dinner laid out on it - I didnít see my wife do all that work, but I see the results; I know she did. So, too, with Jesusí work now. We see people coming to faith and sustained in their faith. Little children, old folks, † people from all walks of life, countries, cultures. I didnít see Jesus do it, but I know He did. Where His Word is preached, people hear. And where people hear, they are baptized. And where they are baptized, they are absolved. And where they are absolved, they are fed. And where all this happens, there is the church, the new Israel. Jesus promised it would be so.
And the apostles see this right away. Ten days after Jesusí Ascension He sends them the Holy Spirit, just as He promised, and Peter and the eleven preach, and people hear. And hearing, they are baptized. Over 3,000 souls that very first day! And the apostles see the kingdom being restored. A new Israel growing. And it wasnít because of them, but through them Jesus was still working. Same as He always was, only now even more, even greater.
And so it will be until we finally do see Jesus again, as the angels told the disciples: This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. Then we will see Him. Now, we do not. But we see the signs of His work; the results of His work. Maybe not 3,000 at a time now, but just one soul at a time. But thatís enough. Remember what Jesus said: there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).
Itís easy to doubt though, when we see the Church persecuted, when we see her divided and struggling, when we see the Bride of Christ scorned and mocked, when we see the Church marginalized and her sons and daughters martyred. Enthronement, coronation, seem so very different from the reality we see. But thatís how it is with life under the cross. For we have not yet ascended.
But as the Collect we prayed tonight said, we ascend in heart and mind. We see the cross of Jesus and the cross now, but we also see through the cross to the reality that is, for now, unseen. And know that through the cross, the kingdom is being restored. The new Israel is growing. The kingdom is advancing. Led by Jesus, at the right hand of the Father, through His Spirit, by His Word and Sacraments given all over the world. Given here, to you. That you be and remain a part of this new Israel, until Jesus comes again to take you to His glory. And He will, for He didnít ascend for Himself, but for you. To rule for you, yes. But also this: that your human nature be where His human nature is, forever. That just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so shall you. With Him.
Thatís why the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and thatís why our joy, too, this night. For Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] And we have been clothed with power from on high! The kingdom is being restored!
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.