Summary: Where do you go to find God? The Christian knows: You go to Jesus. But the Christian also knows that Jesus is God. And so we ask, “Where do you go to find Jesus?”
Where do you go to find God? The Christian knows: You go to Jesus. But the Christian also knows that Jesus is God. And so we ask, “Where do you go to find Jesus?”
And so a puzzle, a mystery, stares us straight in the eyes. If Jesus ascended into heaven--and He did as our Scriptures readings make so clear--then He is gone from us. He went up into the sky until a cloud hid Him from sight. He talked about going away--and then He went away, promising to return. He said that if He didn’t go away, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would not come.
Is that why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, to take His place until He returns on the Last Day in all His glory? Is the Holy Spirit a substitute for Jesus until the end of the age?
For many, the answer to where you find Jesus is that you can’t. Why? Because Jesus is ascended into Heaven, and He can’t be two places at once! And so you have to wait until you go to Heaven to see Him, unless He returns first.
That’s why when you enter most churches today, you will find no altar or no crucifix--nothing that would even hint that Jesus is there. Of course, we Lutherans are different--at least we’re supposed to be. That’s why the altar is so prominent in our architecture. That’s why Lutheran churches, for so long, have had crucifixes front and center for all to see. For we believe that Jesus actually shows up in our worship services. That’s why we have the nerve to call a worship service a “Divine Service,” Gottesdienst in the old German.
When Jesus told the Eleven, His Apostles, at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” He wasn’t just leaving them with some sentimental-sounding words. Nor was Jesus saying that He would only be with them in Spirit.
What did Jesus tell the Eleven do to, when He had gathered them on the mountaintop, before His ascension? I’m sure you know. He told them to disciple by baptizing and teaching. In Lutheran shorthand, others are brought and kept in Christ’s Church through Word and Sacrament. In this case, Baptism is the Sacrament and teaching is the delivery of the spoken Word.
But how could Jesus be with the Eleven, as He said, until the end of the age? The Eleven, the Apostles, would soon all die. And then what would happen to the Word and Sacrament ministry that Jesus had given them to do. That had to go on until the end of the age, right, until Jesus returns on the Last Day? Yes, it did--and it does.
And so Jesus still must be with us today as He promised in Word and Sacrament, until the end of the age. And so even today, Jesus really is here with us--and we can see Him, if we have the eyes of faith! For we are to take Jesus at His Word. And so we believe that He is still among us, just He has promised--even though He has ascended into heaven. If Jesus is God--and He is--then He can do that!
The risen and ascended Lord of the Church is with us. That’s why worship, the Divine Service, is not really about us serving the divine God. More importantly, it’s that the divine incarnate Son of God is here and has gathered us around Him--not to be served--but to serve us. You don’t come here to do something for God; you come here for God to do something for you.
Yes, the divine Lord of the Church is with us! This is holy ground! And so we are to be filled with awe and reverence, realizing that what Jesus promised to His Apostles is still true. He will be with us and we can still see Him, even to the end of the age.
But Jesus does appear among us a little differently than He did with His first disciples. Here, He has chosen to appear to us under the forms of ordinary human language, in common water, and in common bread and wine.
These are the “masks” of Jesus. Think about the heroes we like on TV, like the Lone Ranger, or in the movies like Spiderman. The mask reveals the man, or in this case, the hero.
In a similar way, our Lord both hides and reveals Himself as He comes to us in the Divine Service. Jesus hides Himself in ordinary spoken language, in this case, the sermon and the readings of Holy Scripture. Jesus also hides Himself in water during baptism and in bread and wine during the Lord’s Supper. The Word and Sacraments serve as masks, something like a Jesus suit.