Summary: A sermon on the Ascension of our Lord preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa. Text is Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11
“Powerful Witnesses of the Ascension”
5/4/2008 Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa
Ascension Day is one of the few remaining main festivals of the Christian church year that hasn’t really been touched by our secular American society. For example, take our two biggest festivals, Christmas and Easter. They’re the “big two” festivals of the Christian church year, and yet they also have secular ideas and traditions that have little, if anything, to do with the actual Christian festival itself. Ascension Day is a little different. I’m guessing none of you sent or received any “Happy Ascension Day” cards in the mail this week, or went out for dinner for Ascension Day. None of the stores had a big “Ascension Day Sale”, nor do we have some character like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny that’s associated with Ascension Day. In fact, I’m willing to guess that many of you here this morning don’t even know when it usually falls each year. Ascension Day is 40 days after the celebration of Easter, so it’s on a Thursday each year. The 40 days represent the 40 days that Jesus walked the earth after his resurrection before he ascended into heaven. This year, it would have been this past Thursday. Because it’s such a lesser known festival, not many churches have a special service to commemorate it. In fact, many Lutheran churches celebrate Ascension Day with a special evening service that day, but have it as a joint service with sister congregations, and even then, it’s hardly a big turnout. But because it’s a major event in the life of our Savior, I decided it was important enough to move the celebration of the Ascension of Our Lord to today, a Sunday, so we can learn a bit more about this “mystery” festival of the church year, and understand why it’s important that we celebrate it.
One of the things that makes this day unique is that it’s the last time recorded in Scripture that Jesus is seen on earth. Now St. Paul does encounter Jesus on the road to Damascus later in the book of Acts, but Paul doesn’t see the actual, physical, resurrected body of Jesus, he sees a bright light, and hears a voice. In the book of Revelation, St. John tells us he hears Jesus, but again, it’s not a physical body on earth that John sees, it’s a vision. So this account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven is rather unique, in that it is the last time that Jesus is physically seen in his resurrected body on earth.
Jesus has been resurrected from the dead and appeared to His disciples for 40 days now. It’s no big secret that he’s risen from the dead at this point. He had made many appearances in that time period, and they’re recorded in the Gospels. One of them, he appeared to over 500 people! So by this time, it’s no big secret. He’s restored his disciples, the 11 men who cowardly ran away and hid during his passion and death, even restoring Peter, who had denied him three times. No doubt, even though a little over a month had passed since that truly Holy Week in Jerusalem, it probably still seemed so amazing, unreal that Jesus was alive! No doubt, they had to wonder at some point how long Jesus would be with them. Perhaps they thought He was there to stay, to fix their problems, and protect them from what would happen next.
In our readings for this morning, however, we see that would not be the case. Jesus, as he’s done in the three years he spent with His disciples prior to His crucifixion, and in his appearances to them in the 40 days since his resurrection, is teaching His disciples. But the tone of this teaching sounds a bit different from anything they’ve heard. The topic is the same: the kingdom of God. In our Gospel reading from Luke, we’re told Jesus says “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” At this point, Luke tells us that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”. If you’ll recall, quite often when Jesus was teaching about something that was going to happen to him, or what the Kingdom of God was like, he’d often have to interpret what He was saying to them. This time, He opens their minds, so that they can understand what everything was all about. We’re told he says “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.” He calls them witnesses of these things, and promises them help from above. HE then tells them to stay in the city until they are clothed with power from on high.