Rising Above It All
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 24:44–24:53
The Ascension of Our Lord
May 9, 2013
“Rising Above it All”
Last Tuesday, I was headed into Arlington for the annual fundraising support breakfast for Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area. I left home in plenty of time to get there, or so I thought. But it rained that morning and traffic was particularly heavy. The breakfast started at 7:30 a.m., and I arrived at 8:35 a.m., with barely enough time to do what I was asked to do: represent our Southeastern District President and offer the closing prayer in his behalf. The good news is that I did get there in time, and had a few minutes to spare to get settled before offering that closing prayer. You all know what this is like because you’ve had similar experiences. Traffic is the big wildcard that always leaves us wondering: will I be early? Will I be late? Will I get there at all? Sitting in my vehicle while stuck in traffic, knowing the clock was ticking steadily onward, I envisioned myself in a car of the future where you can push a button – or, better yet, use voice-activated technology! – to put the car into helicopter mode. The vehicle’s propellers would sprout up through specially designed openings, and then as the propellers started up, my car and I would ascend into the atmosphere above all the snarled and congested traffic problems, blissfully flying away to my destination. How wonderful it would be to rise above it all!
On this fortieth day of Easter, the day on which we commemorate and rejoice in the Ascension of Our Lord, we who are separated from the actual event by some 2000 years can nevertheless picture in our mind’s eye the Lord Jesus as he ascends into heaven. Each of this evening’s Scripture lessons speak to this in different ways, especially the First Reading (Acts 1:1-11) and the Gospel (Luke 24:44-53), in which we are told: “Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). The crucified, risen and ascended Savior is rising above it all, or so it seems. And that is the theme for the message on this Ascension Day: “Rising Above It All.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Based on the theme and title of this message, you might think that with his earthly life and ministry now completed, at his ascension Jesus may have sort of washed his hands of everything related to life on planet Earth. We might think with all that messy work of suffering and dying now behind him, Jesus could just kick back and relax in his heavenly home. In rising above it all, did Jesus move beyond it all? That answer is a resounding no! Though his earthly, physical presence is removed, Jesus nevertheless still dwells in, with and among his people. This is enormously comforting to Christ’s people. We are not abandoned or left alone by our God. Jesus’ promise is that his departure signals the arrival of that promised Advocate and Counselor, the Holy Spirit, who calls us and keeps us in the one true faith (John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15), always pointing us to the Lord Jesus and all that he has done for us, who in turn presents us to the Father, clothed in the robe of Christ’s own righteousness (Isaiah 61:10; Romans 5:17-19).
But why exactly is this day significant? What is the big deal about Jesus’ ascension? What does this really mean? We find the answer to this in the second reading (Ephesians 1:15-23), where Paul writes that God the Father revealed the greatness of his power “… 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 1:20-23). With his ascension, all things have been placed beneath Jesus’ feet. Even the things from our perspective right now that look like they’re definitely not under Jesus’ feet, but are wildly out of control – disease and death, violence and bloodshed, greed and corruption – even these things ultimately serve God’s purpose for the child of God, as his Word reminds us: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). So let us hold fast to this truth until Jesus shall come again in the same way as those first disciples saw him go (Acts 1:11).
Before his ascension, Jesus said to his disciples, “… and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). That applies to us today as modern-day disciples of the Lord Jesus. We also are his witnesses in places near and far – wherever the Jerusalems, Judeas and Samarias are for us today. Witnesses simply tell they have seen and heard, and that is what Jesus calls us to do: telling others what we have seen and heard, proclaiming not only with our lips but also with our lives all that God in Christ has done for us. And in so doing, we help others to rise above it all – not through their own efforts, but receiving and rejoicing in that gift which Jesus came to bring: full and abundant life in him our crucified, risen and ascended Savior, now and forever. Amen.