Friday, May 19, 2023

Not what changes but what remains the same...

Sermon for Ascension Thursday (AM) preached on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Though Ascension often focuses on what changes in our Lord’s Ascension to the right hand of the Father, it is even more important to remember what remains the same.  Scripture is more focused on what remains the same than what is new or what changes.  You and I are transfixed by new things.  In our age of rapid change it is easy for us to look at Scripture with the same baited breathe for what is new and yet the message of God’s Word is yesterday, today, and forever the same.

Our Lord is still the Incarnate One.  He does not ascend to some vague spiritual place to inhabit some vague spiritual presence.  He is the same Lord, born of the Virgin yet without a human father.  He is the same Lord who grew and matured into a man among men.  He is the same Lord who carried out His public ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God in our midst because He is here.  He is the same Lord who suffered for our sin and died our death.  He is the same Lord who rose on the third day and was seen by more than 500 witnesses.

Why is that important?  Because Christ seals our relationship with the Father by His incarnation, holy life, life-giving death, and mighty resurrection.  There are no surprises in store for Him or for us.  It is not the unknown we face but the future He has prepared that we might be with Him and He with us forever.  There will be no fruit basket upset on judgment day.  He is the same Christ who will present us to the Father clothed in His righteousness and washed clean in His blood.  

He wears the same scars of Calvary but no longer as marks of suffering.  Now they are the marks of victory because of what that suffering has accomplished.  He has the glorified flesh of the one who can no longer die.  We find comfort in this because it means that our scars and wounds are likewise no longer the marks of our defeat or loss but in Christ become the marks of glory when we shall dwell with Him, having finished the race, fought the good fight, and endured to the end.

He is still with us.  To be sure, the mode of His presence has changed but not the presence itself.  He is still with us in flesh and blood – now the flesh and blood of the Holy Eucharist.  He is still with us speaking the kingdom into our ears but now through the voice of His Word.  He is still giving us the living water but now in the font where we are born again to everlasting life.  He is still silencing the devil, forgiving sins, and making the wounded whole – now through the means of grace.

None of that changes – not who Christ is or what He has accomplished for us or what He gives to us.  The mode by which He is present and imparts the blessings of the cross to us has changed but not the Christ who is with us always to the end of the world or the fruits of His redeeming work imparted now through the Word of God and the Sacraments.

That is why the disciples are told to stop staring into the sky.  The Lord had already given them the promise of the Spirit and they were to go back into the city and await the fulfillment of the promise.  Jesus was not up there somewhere.  He was still with them as they would soon witness with tongues of fire and languages spoken without learning them.  They were reassured by this and returned to the city not with the downcast hearts of sorrow but with joy, even great joy.  And Luke tells us that where they went.  They went to Church.  They were in the Temple praising God day after day.  Do you see the connection between what we do?  Here in this place, Christ is among us still, doing all that He has promised to do, bestowing the gifts of His grace, and sealing us in the Spirit.

What is new then?  Jesus had promised that the day would come when they would be His witnesses, first from Jerusalem, then to Judea, then to Samaria, and finally to the ends of the world.  This is what is new.  But this cannot be fulfilled until the Spirit whom the Father will send in Christ’s name has come among them.  On Pentecost we will remember just that – the gift of the Spirit that equipped them for their new calling as witnesses – telling all the world what Jesus said and did.

All that the Lord is remains the same after His Ascension.  He is still the Savior come to redeem and not yet to judge, still the incarnate One of the Virgin by the Spirit, still the Son of Man like us in every way except sin.  All that we need from the Lord remains the same even after the Ascension when His visual image is replaced by the sacramental mediums of Word, water, absolution, and bread and wine. What changed were the disciples.  While the Spirit had not yet been given, we saw them head back to Jerusalem without fear or lament but in great joy.  The same men who had hidden behind locked doors were out in public in the Temple, praising God whom they knew in Christ.  Pentecost will change them more but it was already begun.  So it is for us.  What remains the same gives us the courage to be who God says we are and to what He has called us to do.   Christ is with us, working through us, with joy in our hearts, with confidence in our minds, because Christ is forever the same even as He calls us to step up and out in His Name.

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