May 13, 2010: The Closure of Ascension

Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this great and glorious day of Your heavenly homecoming we rejoice with all the saints and angels in glory! We’re happy that You are home and happy that You have not left us alone, but sent us the Holy Spirit to comfort and uplift us. Keep the joyous celebration of both alive within our hearts until we, too, shall experience our own heavenly homecoming. Amen


TEXT: Acts 1: 1-11

Fellow Redeemed Uplifted Sinners:

The Christian Church has four big events which it celebrates each year. They are: Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. Easter and Pentecost were singled out as special to Christians almost immediately after Christ had died. Because Easter marked the truth of our faith, that we’re totally forgiven by Christ and His undying love has been given to us through faith, Christians immediately began worshipping God on Sunday instead of the traditional Saturday Sabbath. Pentecost was originally a day of joyous Jewish thanksgiving for the completed harvest. But within a few years after that first outpouring of the Spirit in the Upper Room, Christians took it over as a high holy day. We know from Acts 20:6 that St. Paul kept Pentecost with the Christians in Ephesus and in the year 58 he spent Easter with the Philippian Christians, “not departing till the feast was over; and he then hastened on his journey and even sailed to Ephesus, in order to keep Pentecost in Jerusalem.”

Christmas observances were a bit slower to arrive on the scene. It wasn’t universally celebrated until the mid 4th century, after Emperor Constantine had embraced the faith. Likewise, Ascension was considered a part of the Easter-Pentecost season until the latter half of the 4th century. But then, it was given its due and began to be commemorated as a special high holy day.

So, for 1700 years believers have celebrated this day. Early on it was called: Holy Thursday. But, of course, in modern times Maundy Thursday has assumed that title. Also, it was traditionally marked with a procession leading out of town to a hill, where much like the disciples on the 1st Ascension day, the believers honored their Lord. In some medieval churches a figure of Christ was hoisted through the roof as the lesson was read, and this was immediately followed by the blessing of the congregation. Again, this mimicked what occurred on that 1st Ascension.

The facts of the Ascension are very clear. Forty days after Easter Christ took the disciples up to a hill outside Jerusalem and physically and visibly rose into the sky before clouds hid Him from their sight. Before doing this, He promised them that in His absence from earth, He would not leave them alone. Instead, He would send them the Holy Spirit to comfort, uplift, strengthen and confirm their faith. Then He blessed them and arose. He went back to a heavenly homecoming party to end all parties! He also gave them marching orders to spread the good news of forgiveness around the world. Finally, the open-mouthed disciples were treated to the appearance of two angels, “two men dressed in white robes,” who reiterated what Jesus had said and reiterated the truth of Christ’s visible second-coming at a later, unknown, future date. Those are the facts. So, what do they are mean to us today?

The past couple of decades we’ve been introduced to a new word: closure. We’re told that funerals are important in order to have closure to our emotional grief. We’re told that formal good-byes help provide closure when those close to us move away and we’ll never see them again. Even my vet believes, correctly, in closure when it comes to the death of one dog when there are two or more in the pack. When my dog Charlie went up and sniffed his now-dead buddy, Harvey, you could immediately see that he knew Harvey was never coming back to him again. And he never waited for him again.

In a sense, Ascension provided earthly closure to Christ’s disciples. If He would have simply vanished from their sight without them seeing it or having Him explain it to them, they would have been confused, distraught, and full of worry and doubt as to their Godly future. Jesus will have none of that! He’s always concerned for His faithful. He’s always trying to provide us with comfort amid a difficult world. So, by giving them final instructions and then visibly ascending, He provides them with answers and with closure. The angelic appearance is but another reinforcement of this fact.

Here are a few passages which further outline the “why’s” of the ascension and how we now live under its blessing. John 14:2: “In my Father’s house are many mansions…I am going there to prepare a place for you.” Colossians 3: 1: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Eph. 1: 20,22: “God seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” Romans 8: 34: “Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” And how about this one from John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Another reason behind Christ’s ascension deals with the growth of faith in every believer’s heart. Recall Jesus’ ascension command to the apostles: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized, (washed clean) with the Holy Spirit.”

None of us can comprehend the Trinity. We do know that the Triune God is one Lord, but comprised of three distinct Persons. We do know that there is unity in the Trinity and also special distinctiveness. That being said, God ordained that since Christ’s work of saving us was now complete and He could add nothing to it—remember Christ’s words on the cross: “It is finished!”—the application of that truth to our hearts and lives now needed to follow. And that work, my friends, is the job of the Holy Spirit. In a sense, Jesus also ascended to clear the decks for the Spirit. Christ’s task was to win our salvation, but the Spirit’s is to apply and personalize it by engendering faith into our hearts. So, Christ ascended.

In a sense then, Ascension marks completeness, total closure by God when it comes to our salvation. In the Old Testament, God the Father promised us salvation. Then Jesus, His beloved Son, came to earth, shouldered all human sin and purchased that salvation with His blood. And now, the Spirit hands it to us and applies it to our souls via Word, baptism, and communion. The result of it all is this: the circle of salvation is now made complete! And to further ram home that point, right before ascending Jesus tells His followers that at some unspecified date He will visibly return to raise the dead and take all believers into glory! Closure, indeed!

It is for these reasons we should always remember and celebrate Christ’s ascension. THE CLOSURE OF ASCENSION solidifies and builds up our faith. It provides us with a happy heart. For what believer could not be happy over their Savior receiving the embrace of angels and the rest of the Trinity in glory? What believer could not be comforted in knowing that such an embrace awaits them, too? On ascension Jesus heard His Father announce: “Well, done, My good and faithful Servant!” And because of the closure of Ascension, you and I will someday hear those same words—and beam in delight! Amen