In Nomine Iesu
The Ascension of Our Lord A Beginning, Not an Ending
Rev. Michael W. Henrichs
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~
The ascension of the Lord Jesus feels like an ending; but it’s really just the beginning. It feels like the grand finale. It seems like the glorious conclusion to our Lord’s great work on our behalf—the final chapter in a story that is even older than the Bible itself. But it’s not.
For the past six months or so we’ve been giving careful attention to the earthly life of our Lord, beginning with His miraculous conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. With the shepherds, we beheld Him in the manger as bone or our bone and flesh of our flesh. We worshipped with the Wise Men. We marveled at the twelve-year-old Wunderkind in the temple, running circles around the teachers of the Law. We took our place along the banks of the Jordan River as Jesus was baptized by John, fulfilling all righteousness and standing in solidarity with sinners. From there we walked with Him into the wilderness where He did battle with the devil as our sacred substitute. We went up to the mountaintop with Peter, James and John and beheld the glorious Transfiguration of Our Lord. We watched Him working wonders, stilling storms, healing multitudes, and even raising the dead. We heard Him predict His own death and resurrection. We took our place at the table of His body and blood and then watched as the worst unfolded—as Jesus was betrayed and denied, abandoned and executed. We said with the centurion that surely, this man was the Son of God. And forty days ago today we celebrated His resurrection from the dead—we heard the angel declare, “He is risen,” and together with Thomas, we have joyfully confessed that this Jesus is “my Lord and my God.”
Jesus has done it. And He has done it all for you. His ascension to the Father’s right hand certainly feels like an ending; but it’s really just the beginning—just the preface and prologue to something quite wonderful. That’s what Saint Luke was careful to note as he sat down under the Spirit’s inspiration to write what we know as the book of Acts. The book of Acts was Luke’s second volume—the sequel to the gospel that bears his name. And what he makes crystal clear in verse one of chapter one is this: the Ascension is not an ending, but a beginning. “In the first book,” writes Luke, “I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up.” All that Jesus did and taught in the gospels—that was the beginning. Our Lord’s earthly life—from manger to cross to ascension—that was what Jesus began to do and to teach. The clear implication being that our Lord’s work continues. The doing and teaching of Jesus Christ have not concluded, but continue here in His church. The Ascension is not an ending, but a beginning.
And this truth means everything for us who live in these gray and latter days. This is why you have schlepped off to church on a Thursday evening in May—because here, tonight, in the Divine Service, the doing and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ continue. That means that what goes on here isn’t merely a matter of being “traditional,” or of observing certain “symbolic” rites and rituals, or of merely “remembering” things that happened a long time ago. If that’s all that drew us together here tonight, then you might’ve been better off staying home to watch the Brewers game. But thankfully what draws us together tonight is Jesus Christ in the flesh, risen and ascended, who comes to serve sinners. He has washed us in the splash of Holy Baptism, giving us faith and forgiveness. He comes to us in the preaching and proclamation of His Word, in the cleansing cadence of Holy Absolution, and in the bread that is His body and in the wine that is His blood.
The ascension feels like the end, but it surely is not. The Lord Jesus continues to act and serve and teach. The ascension is not about the absence of Jesus, but His ongoing presence for us and for our salvation. This is why we are not without hope in a world gone mad. This is why we can know contentment and peace even as the world around us seems to careen out of control. The Lord Jesus isn’t finished. He hasn’t clocked out. The Ascension wasn’t a finale. Our Lord is with us still.
And we have work to do. Before His ascension, Jesus told His followers, “You will be my witnesses.” Empowered by the Holy Spirit and sustained by the life-giving gifts of Jesus, they would bear witness to Jesus. You too are witnesses of Jesus. This dying world needs your witness. To bear witness to Jesus doesn’t mean that you have to memorize a script and go knocking on the doors of strangers. Nor does it mean that you have to enroll in seminary. Being a witness for the Ascended Lord begins with being here—receiving here the gifts of Jesus—placing yourself directly in the path of His doing and His teaching—letting His Law and Gospel have its way with you—drawing your life from His life.
Of course, being a witness means more than merely parking your posterior in pew. Do you hold sacred what goes on here? Do you gladly hear and learn it? Do you treasure it, and keep it, and put it into practice? Or do you despise it by your lack of attention . . .or by your absence? What does it take to keep you away from the Divine Service? Sickness and bad weather are conundrums we can’t control. But what happens to our witness when we choose work over worship? What happens to our witness when we choose sports over the divine service? When we choose ease and entertainment rather than be inconvenienced by an early morning service? Being a witness means having the facts, and knowing the truth about Jesus. It means that your testimony is in alignment with the very first witnesses of Jesus whose testimony can be found in the pages of your New Testament. Come here and have your weak witness strengthened. Because here the risen and ascended Christ is at work for your eternal good. Here His deeds and words continue until the end of time. This is just the beginning.
There is, however, one thing that is finished. There is one thing concerning your life in Christ that is totally completed, concluded, and accomplished. Jesus has fulfilled and finished His most important work on your behalf—the work His Father sent Him to do: earning your salvation, bearing your sin, making peace between you and the Father, redeeming you with His precious blood. Concerning the completion of this critical work Jesus dispelled all doubt: It is finished. Jesus did it all—for you. Forgiveness, life and salvation, it’s all yours by grace, for Jesus’ sake, through faith. His resurrection and His ascension also trumpet this wonderful truth. Jesus lives and Him you too will live and reign forever. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. It’s just that simple.
The ascension of Jesus feels like an ending; but it isn’t. His work continues among us. His love for sinners knows no limit. His doing and His teaching are ongoing in your life. And, speaking of your life (and mine), there will come a day when it feels like the ending. There will come a time for each one of us when “earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.” Our frail bodies will falter. Our senses will fail. It will seem like the end—the conclusion, the finale, the last chapter of your life. But things are not as they seem. What seems like the end we call “death” will actually be the beginning—the beginning of real life together with Christ. To die is gain. For the doing and the teaching of Jesus tell us just that. They will surely have their way with you. You will go where He has gone, live and reign with Him forever:
On Christ’s ascension I now build The hope of my ascension;
This hope alone has always stilled All doubt and apprehension,
For where the Head is, there as well I know His members are to dwell
When Christ will come and call them.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.