Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mark 's thoughts: The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord - the forgotten feast

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord.  The ascension occurred forty days after Easter (Acts 1:3), and so every year on the fortieth day after Easter we celebrate our Lord’s ascension.  However, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord has become the forgotten feast.  It is a poorly attended service.  In fact, it is not uncommon for Lutheran congregations to have no service on this day.

This is hard to understand, considering the fact that the ascension is an event that is explicitly confessed in the Apostles Creed.  In the Creed we confess our Lord and His work of redemption.  In the Creed we confess that Jesus Christ “…was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.”

However as the Creed indicates, that was not the end of the story for our Lord.  In the Creed we then go on to confess, “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.”  The Creed confesses the ascension as a key event in our Lord’s saving work that will culminate in his return in glory on the Last Day.

Paul tells us that the Son of God “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 ESV).  Yet after humbling himself in the suffering service of the cross, the risen Lord has now been exalted in his ascension as he sits at the right hand of God the Father and exercises all authority.  In Ephesians Paul calls our attention to God’s “great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him 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, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:1-23 ESV).  We worship the risen, ascended and exalted Lord.

In confessing the mystery of the Incarnation, we acknowledge that Jesus Christ was true God and true man.  However, we can never lose sight of the fact that this remains true of our Lord after His ascension as well.  Our Lord is still true God and true man even today.  This means that in His ascension, Jesus Christ took humanity into heaven, and into the presence of God the Father.  His ascension provides the assurance that we too, as baptized Christians who are in Christ, will one day dwell in God’s presence in our redeemed humanity.

Jesus has ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God.  Paul tells us that as the One at the right hand of God, Jesus Christ intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34).  In his ascension, we find encouragement for the here and now of knowing that we have a Friend “in the highest place.” John wrote, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1 ESV). We take comfort in the fact that Jesus Christ intercedes on our behalf in the midst of our daily struggles with sin in a fallen world.

 Finally, when Jesus ascended into heaven two angels appeared to the apostles and said, “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” (Acts 1:11 ESV).  In our Lord’s ascension we find a reminder of His return on the Last Day.  We find encouragement to continue to keep watch and to live lives shaped by an eager expectation of His return.  The ascension of Jesus Christ prompts us to pray “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!” (1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:20).

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