May 21, 2023: Ascension Sunday

Let us pray: Dear Savior, a few days before Your blessed ascension into glory You promised to remain with Your people always—to the very end of the age.  As we sit in a world drenched by human violence, arrogance, and pain those words are very comforting.  Today we ask that You remind us exactly how You are with us and exactly where we can find You and the comfort of Your love.  Yes, teach us to remain in You as You remain with us.  Amen


Text: Matthew 28: 20: “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Fellow Redeemed Who Sit In The Comforting Presence of Christ: 

         New England was the home of the transcendentalists—Emerson and Thoreau.  Neither was a Christian.  Both taught that God is found in nature—in the sky, trees, and rocky hills that surrounded Concord and the rest of terra firma.  Because of this they “communed with nature” instead of attending a Christian church service and communing via the Lord’s Supper.  Both had no time for baptism—they’d rather wander along the banks of the Concord River and get wet by wadding in the shallows.  And both had little or no time for the Bible as they’d rather read cloud formations and the tree leaves. 

         I fear many Christians have been unduly influenced by this idea of a transcendent god who surrounds us in nature.  That is, people have latched unto God’s omnipresence (the Scriptural teaching that God fills all things) and somehow tried to find comfort in that concept.  However, nature teaches us nothing about God’s love and goodness.  It teaches us nothing about His forgiveness and compassion for lost sinners.  Only the Gospel and the sacraments do that.  I fear this misunderstanding of where and how to find Christ and bask in His presence  can be traced back to a misreading of our text.  So, today let us learn anew the real meaning of those blessed words:



         What did Jesus do during those 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension into heaven?  If you take all the various Bible accounts together you discover some interesting things.  1. Jesus told the disciples to “wait for Him in Galilee.”  They did, too.  And He meets them there at the shore of the lake while they are fishing.  Remember how Peter leaped out of the boat and swam to shore to be with his Lord?  2. In another instance Jesus appeared to the 11 and also over 500 other believers—probably at the same place–where He  preached His sermon on the mount.  St. Paul reports this event.  Jesus comforted all of them, even those who hadn’t yet seen Him and doubted His resurrection.  He comforted them with His visible presence and with His Word of truth. Jesus also gave them the “Great Commission” at that time.  That commission to His whole Church to “go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and to teach them to obey everything He commanded throughout His life.”   And then comes the words of our text: “And surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.”  3. He also singled out the apostle James, Jesus’ cousin, and appeared to him and the other apostles at a special moment. 

What happened after that?  Well, we’re told that Jesus directed them to “go to Jerusalem” and await Him and later the Holy Spirit—Pentecost—there at the holy city.  On Ascension, which some scholars say took place on Thursday May 18, 30 AD Jesus appeared to them.  One last time He comforted them and instructed them about the work they would do.     And then He led them out to the back side of the Mount of Olives, the place of His agony in Gethsemane, and from that small mountain visibly ascended into glory.  Yes, He went to heaven to exercise control over all things for the good of His people.  He went to heaven to prepare a place just for us.  He went to heaven to directly intercede for us by offering up prayers to His Father on our behalf.


So, now comes this question: “What does it mean when He promises to be with us always?”  Where are we to find Him?  How is He with us?”  He gave this promise in order to comfort His children in His absence.  So, are we to find Christian comfort, hope, and confidence about our future by star gazing or nature worship?  Were Thoreau and Emerson correct?  No!

Christ is the “Word Who was made flesh and blood.”  That truth of Christmas hasn’t changed and never will.  At His incarnation Jesus forever joined His humanity which is our humanity, to the Gospel and to the sacraments—His visible Word.  So, Jesus is truly with us when we read the Bible, hear sermons, bask in our baptism, commune, receive absolution, and whenever else we come in contact with His Word of truth.  My friends, that’s why worship is important.  That’s why His avenues of grace are comforting.  For they are the one and only way that Jesus keeps His promise and remains with us always!

I recall traveling 1200 miles to meet my sisters in MN and to work together cleaning out my mother’s home.  It was a lot of work yet a joy to be together.  We found comfort in our togetherness.  I have a question for you:  how far would you travel to meet Christ?  What would you put on the back burner, how would you juggle your schedule in order to meet Christ?  For us it is actually very simple.  We dig out our Bibles and read of His work of saving us on the cross.  We make use of our devotionals and are thereby reminded of how God is involved in every aspect of our lives.  We go to church and commune, are absolved, and talk to Him in prayer.  In the early church they called the preaching of the Word and the sacraments “holy things.”  They are holy because that’s where and how the holy Christ remains with us and transfers His holiness to us!

Christ died on the cross to set you free.  Free from self-doubt because God loves you and He’ll “never leave nor forsake you.”  Free from human arrogance because since He was humble for us “he who humbles himself with also be exalted.”  Free from death because He arose from our graves.  

Spring is a glorious time of the year!  I think of flying by air, looking out the window, watching the billowing clouds and marveling at it all.  Certainly the “heavens declare His handiwork” as the Bible says.  But we can never find eternal life and our soul’s salvation in nature.  No, nature teaches us about change, about death, about decay.  The smells of Spring prove that fact.  But God’s Word teaches us about joy, love, forgiveness, and eternal life!  Christ is eternal life.  He lives in heaven to welcome you.  And by surrounding yourself with His means of grace and immersing yourself in His Word, “the Word made flesh” will remain with you always—to the very end of the age.  That’s our comfort and joy not just today, but forever.  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox                    

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