+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Acts 1:9
Theme: Jesus Ascended; Still Present.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Jesus ascended, but He’s still present. His bodily presence is veiled, but His grace and power remains among us. In the promise of forgiveness, in the body and blood of the sacrament, in the reviving waters of baptism; He is present. These means communicate His saving redemption. Yes, of course, God is the authority that keeps the governance of the cosmos in operation, from the rotation of the earth, to the sprouting of the seed, and the conception of new life. Immediate collapse would result if He withdrew. Yet, to you and me, mortal, sinners, generic providence is a fleeting blessing. We require access to immortality. Only Christ can grant it.
Today is the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost. While praying to the Father, Jesus said of His disciples, “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name.”1 It’s a powerful reminder of Christ’s ongoing work. Christ prays with us. You never pray alone; not even if you are the only one in the house, the only one in the room, or seem to be the only one in your headspace. Christ taught His followers to begin the Lord’s Prayer saying, “Our Father.”2 Also, the Holy Spirit intercedes with divine utterances. He knows what to pray for when we can’t find the thoughts or the words. He knows what to pray for when we are too weak, too angry, too lost.
So, gathered near Bethany with the Eleven, Jesus bodily ascended to the Father’s hand of power and commissioned the apostles to be His witnesses once the Holy Spirit was sent. The apostles were joined suddenly by two angels, who told them Jesus would come again in the same manner. Thus, as we reflect upon the 40 days Jesus remained on earth after His resurrection, our thoughts turn also to His imminent return in glory.
Much is made by some scholars about the expectation of the early Christians, and particularly of Paul, of the imminent return of Christ. Many, it is claimed, did not expect their children's lifespans to reach their maturity before Jesus’ Second Coming. There is solid biblical evidence to support this thesis. Christ and the apostles warn the faithful to be prepared for the end. Yet, it’s nearly 2000 years later…and the years roll on. Was there some misunderstanding? God is not limited by our understanding of time. Whether He returns tomorrow, in 100 years, or in 1000 years should make no difference to how we live in the present. The implications are very practical. God knows how we live. He knows how we allocate your resources. He knows what we hoard, what we waste, when we are generous and when we are stingy. He knows how we love or fail to love others. He knows what we put our trust in. Christ may come for any of us, individually, this very hour.
You may have seen a t-shirt with a message that says, "Look busy, Jesus is coming back!" It's a tongue-in-cheek take on a serious reality. But merely keeping up appearances will do no good. God reads the heart. He knows our words before we speak them and our thoughts before we think them. If our actions aren't a true reflection of our convictions we are shown to be hypocrites. God will not be deceived. We will have no leverage with which to convince Him otherwise. There will be no second chances upon His arrival. The time for repentance is always now, never later. Don’t spend any time on a strategy trying to justify your sins. Confess them. Don’t look for loopholes in the law or make comparisons with those you believe to be less godly. Neither evasion nor arrogance will accomplish anything. Look in the mirror and trust that the person you see there is the same one who will stand before the Judge.
But, dear friends, believers have nothing to fear when Christ returns. It will be an event of tremendous excitement and anticipation. We will suffer no angst or anxiety. Our judgment has already been rendered. Our sentence has already been served. Our debt has already been paid. God is not slack in His judgment. But He isn't stingy with His love either. His love is so magnanimous that He meets the requirements of His own justice. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed that we might be spared. He was condemned to be crucified. He was sentenced to death. He bore the weight of the world’s transgressions. He entered the darkness. He silenced Satan. He was raised. He is living. We are free. And we are free not to be independent, but to live in community. Christ reconstitutes the community of God, the “one, holy Christian and apostolic Church.”3 Jesus is the origin of all things. He is the centre. He is the destination. The Bible says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.”4
We’re not saying here that these truths are perceptible to our senses or emotions. Even at His ascension the disciples were asking if Jesus was about to establish an earthly kingdom. Why were they still asking that? Because that’s what was tangible to them. An earthly kingdom was perceptible, relatable. It’s the same challenge we have. So, there is always need for clarity and distinction. Nothing can be said so clearly that someone cannot misunderstand it. The Holy Spirit makes clear the truth in the hearts and minds of those who believe. He shows us the Son who brings with Him the presence and gifts of the Father. But we are always under temptation to waver. Satan knows the weak points. He knows what puffs us up with pride and he knows what tempts us to doubt and despair.
We cannot understand the communication of the Spirit except through faith. It’s not directly tangible to us. A child who has not yet acquired literacy can receive a copy of the parent's will, but still won’t know anything of the inheritance until the contents are communicated in a different manner. The words of Scripture can be studied or received by anyone who has the capacity, but they cannot be understood as to their spiritual meaning except through the Spirit. Spiritual literacy is not a matter of intellectual capacity, but of revelation made to the heart and communication made to the conscience. The Scriptures are written in human language but their effectiveness requires divine working.
Dear friends, when we are lacking conviction about whether God is present or working in our lives we are in good company. Early believers too, needed the constant reassurance of the gospel promises. What does Peter say today? “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”5 Now, care is a concept we can relate to. But, how understated it is in God’s case! He cared enough to sacrifice everything in service to us.
How will you meet the coming Christ? You may have anxiety when you try to picture it now in your mind’s eye. But when the trumpet sounds, the heaven is rent, and He appears with a retinue of angels, you will be astounded and filled with excitement and joy. We will be absorbed in jubilation far beyond what we can now begin to imagine. And it won’t matter if you are already dead. The dead will be raised, their bodies reunited with their souls and all believers will be transferred into glory. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Seventh Sunday of Easter
28 May 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 17:11
2 Matthew 6:9
3 The Nicene Creed
4 Colossians 1:17-18
5 1 Peter 5:6-7