Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 24:44–24:53
May 30, 2019
Outside the city of Jerusalem, atop the Mount of Olives, is a chapel, the traditional site of Jesus’ ascension. This was first erected on the summit of the hill before the year 387 A.D. by a faithful Roman woman named Pomenia. The original church was destroyed by the Persians when they entered Jerusalem in 614 A.D. Over 400 years later in 1099, the Crusaders built columns and arches in an octagonal form around the site, and in 1187, the Caliph Saladin added walls and the dome, transforming the chapel into a mosque, which it remains to this day. In the center of this small chapel is a rock, which according to tradition, is the very place on which Jesus stood when he ascended into heaven. This evening we commemorate not a place, but a Person – the risen, ascended Savior Jesus Christ. On this day, forty days after he rose from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven, as Luke records both in his Gospel (Luke 24:44-53), as well as in his Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-11). This brief meditation rises up out of that Gospel lesson appointed for the Ascension of our Lord from Luke 24.
In many respects, Ascension Day is an overlooked and forgotten festival in the life of the Church. There are no customs or celebrations attached to this day, as there are with Christmas or Easter. And yet, the importance of Jesus’ ascension cannot be overstated, as Paul the apostle makes clear in that Epistle lesson for this evening (Ephesians 1:15-23), that God “… 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 1:20-23). This is why Ascension Day matters: it means, as Paul writes, that all things are subject to Christ. And that is so very important to remember, especially when it appears to us that corruption, greed, and evil have the upper hand; that things are going from bad to worse; that we live in a world gone amok. In spite of everything that we see and hear to the contrary, Ascension Day reminds us that Christ reigns.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension in Acts has the disciples craning their necks upward to catch a final glimpse of Jesus, with the two angels having to remind them: “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). But in his Gospel, Luke records these closing words: “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53). Had we been there, we would have done the same thing as those first disciples. But now, Jesus calls us to look out rather than up. Just before his ascension, Jesus said to his disciples: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48). This is the kind of looking out Jesus has in mind: looking out at all the nations and peoples in the world around us, and proclaiming that Jesus died and rose again for them also. You and I are witnesses of these things. By the grace of our crucified, risen, and ascended Savior, we follow in the disciples’ train and are called to do what witnesses always do: simply tell others what we have seen and heard. That is the courtroom definition of a witness, right? Through our words and our actions, we are telling the world: Christ reigns!
Until Christ comes again in the same way those first disciples saw him go, we have work to do – not drudgery that sucks the joy out of life, but work that is joy-filled and makes an eternal difference in the lives of people. We get to tell others about Jesus, who loves them and gave his life for them. This is our calling in Christ until Christ shall come again. As we join Jesus on his mission in daily life, we are always looking to see what Jesus is doing out ahead of us; in our lives as well as in the lives of others. We look for those opportunities that the Spirit opens up to us which are not mere coincidences, but divine appointments. We rejoice that we have the high privilege of serving as Jesus’ hands and feet and mouth to proclaim with our lips and with our lives: Christ reigns! Amen.