Text: Acts 1:1-11
“Gone, but not forgotten;” that’s what we might say when someone impactful on our lives is no longer accessible. Often, the phrase is found etched on headstones as reminder to us of those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Implicit in this phrase – what is assumed – is that the person in question is now permanently separated from us. Their only influence upon us now is through our memories. That’s also what people say, “they live on in our memories.”
Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, but His separation from us is not like those who are separated by the grave. Rather, when Jesus was taken up into the cloud, He sat down at the right hand of God. From there, He continues to be present in all places, and especially where His Word is read or spoken, and His Sacraments are received. Our Lord’s ascension is part of His exaltation. He returned to the right hand of God to resume the glory that was His before the foundation of the world. Christ, our dear Lord, ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule over all things for our benefit, even as He continues to be with us in His Word and Sacrament until He comes again. He is not gone, and neither has He forgotten us.
Today we celebrate, for Christ’s ascension is further proof that He defeated death and hell. By His death on the cross, He made payment for all the sins of the world. By His resurrection, He broke the bars and loosened the chains of death. As He now lives forever, so, too, will all those who believe in Him. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let us hear again from St. Luke. He wrote,
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
The Book of Acts is a continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel. Whereas the Gospel is primarily about the words and deeds of our Lord Himself, Acts continues the account of our Lord’s work through His Apostles. The reason we are celebrating Ascension today is because today is when it happened – 40 days after Easter. Our Lord Jesus Christ, after He had been raised from the dead, did not immediately ascend into heaven. Rather, He remained for 40 days. Some of the things He did, we’ve heard about already – how He appeared to the disciples even though the doors were locked and how St. Thomas felt the mark of the nails and spear. St. Luke also wrote that Jesus appeared to two disciples on the way to Emmaus. There was also a miraculous catch of fish after the resurrection. St. Paul wrote that Jesus once appeared to over 500 people at one time.
Jesus remained those 40 days to provide definitive proof that He had, truly, defeated sin, death, and the devil. Imagine that you heard of someone claiming to have come back from the dead. Perhaps it would take you a while to believe, too. But, not only did Jesus prove by many acts that He was alive, He also continued to teach the disciples. A few weeks back we heard that Jesus had more things to teach them, but they couldn’t bear it yet. Now that their minds had been opened to understand the Scriptures, Jesus taught them all that was necessary. Then, according to St. Mark, “The Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”St. Luke adds that two angels came and stood among the Apostles and said, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go.”
Thus far the narrative. Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. He remained for 40 days to teach and prove that He was alive. Then, He ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. But, what does this mean? What does it mean that Jesus has ascended into heaven? For starters, “the right hand of God,” is not a placein the way that we use the word. When we say we’re in a place, we mean that we are fixed in a specific location. We cannot be in two placesat once. However, the right hand of God is figure of speech to describe how Christ has returned to His throne on high. Since Scripture tells us that God is everywhere, His throne extends over every place. Our Lord did not ascend to be away from us, but to be with us everywhere. He said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
But, what is our Lord doing at the right hand of God? He’s not resting; He did that already in the tomb. Our Lord said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”Our Lord ascended into heaven to rule over all things for the benefit of His Church. St. Paul said it this way, “[The Father] put all things under[the Son’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church.”Our Lord, at His ascension, resumed the glory that He had before the foundation of the world. As the victor over sin, death, and hell, He rules over all things for our good. He blesses us and watches over us; He works all things together for our good and salvation.
And, not only does Jesus rule and watch over all things, but He is also the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, as we heard back on Good Shepherd Sunday. He intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. When Satan brings charge against us, Jesus pleads our case with His own blood. Our Lord prays for us. Just as an earthly priest prays for those in his care, Jesus – who is a priest forever – prays for us, we who have been united with Him in Baptism. He also watches over our souls by sending faithful pastors into all the world. He defends His Word from corruption and, by His Holy Spirit, continues to call and comfort us all in the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus also said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?“That is, Jesus is also preparing our place in His presence in His eternal kingdom.
When someone dies and is parted from us, we sometimes say they are “gone, but not forgotten.” In His Ascension, Jesus is not gone from us – for the right hand of God extends to every place. The Lord has said, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?“At the right hand of the Father, Jesus rules all things for our good, He prays for us, He prepares a place for us at His side. He is not gone in the Ascension, and neither has He forgotten us. Though His throne extends over all places, our gracious Lord has also left us His promise that there are specific places we can find Him. He has left us promises so that, though we know He is everywhere, we can know that He is herewith us.
Our Lord has said, “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”Though Christ can be and is everywhere, He has promised that where two or three are gathered in His name – He is there with them. It’s one thing to know that Christ is everywhere, but it is another to know that He is here. Even now. He is present wherever His Word is read or spoken, and He is present, also, in His Sacrament. On the night He was betrayed, our Lord gave us this most precious meal. We receive in, with, and under the bread and wine, the true body and blood of our Lord – the same which were broken and shed for us. In this sacred feast, Christ continues to be with us for our good, to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith.
Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms…if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”Remember what the angels said to the Apostles; Christ, our Lord, will return to us in the same way He left. Someday soon, our Lord will return on the clouds. He will raise us and all the dead. Then, we and all believers in Christ will be gathered to His side to enter in both body and soul into the new creation.
Today we celebrate our Lord’s victory over death and the grave. His Ascension to the right hand of God is the capstone of His achievement. From the right hand of God, He rules all things for our good, He intercedes and prays for us, He prepares our place at His side. He is not separated from us, but is in all places and is with us where His Word and Sacrament are received. Soon, He will return on the clouds, that where He is, we may be also. Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ac 1:1–3.
1 Cor. 15:6.