After The Ascension
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Our Forty Days
It has been forty days since we gathered in our congregations on Easter morning, forty days since we proclaimed Christ is Risen. It is with great joy and with shouts of thanksgiving that we have continued to meet on Sundays and to remember the resurrection of our redeemer Jesus Christ.
Jesus died, but he is not dead. The tomb could not hold him. We have been singing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven that Jesus triumphed over sin and death. He is victorious over sin – your sin. He has swallowed up death forever – your death.
Forty Days With Jesus
Now on this fortieth day after Easter Sunday, we remember the Ascension of our Lord. In our Scripture readings, we get a glimpse into what the apostles were during those actual forty days after the resurrection.
Saint Luke in his Gospel and in the Book of Acts summarizes those forty days for us. His emphasis in not on what the disciples did but on what the risen Lord Jesus did for them and ultimately for us.
In Acts chapter one, Luke writes, “[Jesus] presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days.” His very presence took away their fear and brought them peace. Soon, however, they would not be able to see him or touch him or hear his voice. So he was preparing them for the time when he would return to the Father who had sent him.
What would they have after he left this earth? What would take away their fear and give them peace? In Luke chapter twenty-four, we hear that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Jesus led his disciples in a marvelous Bible Study.
After his ascension, they would receive comfort from the Word of God. They would receive strength by knowing that Christ’s death and resurrection was the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation for them. When his scared hands and feet would no longer be there, his word would remain.
For The Days To Come
Jesus led them into an understanding of his death and resurrection. He taught them why his death was necessary. As the good shepherd, Jesus had laid down his life for them. He became the new Passover Lamb whose blood was shed to take away their sins.
Jesus explained the significance of his resurrection. His death on a cross had paid for their sin. The wages of sin was paid in full. Death no longer had a claim on them. His resurrection was God’s proof to them that their death had been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus on the cross.
Jesus opened their minds and filled their hearts with the good news that their sins were forgiven and that they had the promise of eternal life. He prepared them so that they would be faithful witnesses to the world.
They would witness to the world why Jesus died and rose. Jesus taught them so that when his Holy Spirit came they would be equipped to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.
When I remember those forty days that the disciples spent with Jesus, I am sometimes envious. They had Jesus himself as their teacher. As I see what Jesus did, I am repentant of my failure to preach and teach the fullness of God’s word of salvation. I am sorrowful that you and I have not studied the Word of God, as we should.
Only A Beginning
As I think about those first forty days and our most recent forty days, I am drawn to the opening words of Saint Luke in the Book of Acts. Luke wrote: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up.”
In his gospel, Luke had written about the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. He called it “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” What an interesting way to begin the second volume of his writings. Luke is saying, “there is more to come from this Jesus.” He is saying, “Jesus is going to continue to do and teach.”
This is wonderful news on the anniversary of Jesus’ ascension. It is the good news that we need on the forty-first day after Easter and on the days thereafter. Jesus continued to do and to teach through the witness of the apostles.
He continues to do and to teach through the church, through his word and sacraments. He continues to take away fear and bring peace, to give comfort and strength, open the minds and hearts of those who hear his word.
We Need What He Began
You need what Jesus began. You were born into this world as decedents of Adam and Eve. You were born in their image with a sinful heart. That sinful heart has led you to sin in thought, word, and deed; by what you have done and left undone.
Like many that Jesus met, you at times rejected the thought that forgiveness is free. You have tried to earn favor in God’s eyes rather that receive it as a gift from his grace. Like Peter, you don’t want it to be true that Jesus had to suffer and die to save you from your sins. They can’t be that bad, can they?
There are times when you run away from Jesus, when you don’t want others to know that you attend church or that you confess that there is no other name under heaven by which you can be saved. You have said, “I do not know the man.” You fear, you doubt, you hide, and you fail to love as you have been loved, to forgive as you have been forgiven.
He Gives It
You need what Jesus began. You need him to wash away your sins, to cloth you with his righteousness, and to give you the gift of faith. You need him to connect you with his death and resurrection. You need him to call you his own. The ascended Christ has done all these things for you as he lives and breathes in his body the church.
You daily need to hear that Jesus lived, suffered, died, and rose for you. You need to hear his voice say to you, “You are forgiven for doubting, for hiding your faith, for failing to forgive.” You need to know and believe that all your sins are covered. There is not one of your sins for which Christ did not pay in full the debt you owed.
The ascended Jesus is here with you. He speaks to you through his word so that you can hear that the good news of his forgiveness is for you. His word comes in many forms; written, spoken, and sung. Your Christian brothers and sisters are witnesses of the power of God’s love. Your pastor has been called to proclaim to you, that God in his mercy has given his Son to die for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.
You may not touch his hands and his side, but he gives you his very body and blood. It is a miracle. Jesus is with his heavenly Father yet in a few minutes he will be with you. He will bless you with the presence of his very body and blood. Jesus will be here with you, forgiving your sins, and strengthening your faith.
Through his word and sacraments, first given to his apostles and then to the church, he continues to be with you even as he is with his Father in heaven. He continues to do the work of saving you from your sins as he gives and strengthens your faith. Jesus continues to teach you as his Holy Spirit brings all good news to your remembrance.
Always With Us
I can never come to church on Ascension Day without remembering that Jesus has not left us or forsaken us. He is with us doing what he began. Jesus is daily restoring our souls through his presence in his Word and Sacraments.
I can never forget that while Jesus is with us, he is also at the same time with his Father. He is at his Father’s right hand doing what he promised to do for you. He is interceding on your behalf. He is your great High Priest whose hands show the Father that your sin has been taken away, you are forgiven.
He is preparing a place for you, preparing to welcome you home when he comes to bring you to be with him forever. He is above all rule and authority, all power and dominion, and his name is above every name, so that you might know that his sacrifice has conquered sin, death, and the devil for you.
O give thanks unto our risen and ascended Lord, for he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria