The Ascension of Jesus

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Easter 6 | 05.26.2019 | John 14:23-29

“…On the third day he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven…”

He ascended into heaven.

We don’t talk too much about the Ascension as a major moment in Jesus’ story.

God came to earth in Christ Jesus (the Incarnation – Christmas). God in Christ Jesus died (the Crucifixion – Good Friday). Jesus rose from the dead (the Resurrection- Easter). He proceeded to hang out with the disciples for 40 more days and then he ascended into heaven to be with the Father (Acts 1 – The Ascension).

I thought we’d give a little focus today to this event that few people regard, few people know about, and even fewer people understand. Let’s talk about the Ascension, and let’s start with Jesus talking about it in today’s gospel passage. Listen again to these verses:

25 I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me [and you do[1]], you would rejoice that I am going to the Father…

What Jesus seems to be doing here is prepping his disciples for his departure, for his ascension. The way he preps them offers some insight for understanding the ascension and what it means for us.

First, I just want to highlight the tenderness of Jesus here. As one New Testament scholar points out, he is being pastoral.[2] He’s acknowledging to his disciples that it may be difficult for them to process his departure, and so he assures them with a promise—that this is something good, and this is something to rejoice: 27…Do not let your hearts be troubled…28 …rejoice that I am going to the Father…

This is tender and hopeful, but it also strikes me as odd. He urges his disciples to celebrate his departure (v. 28), but I’ve got to believe that the disciples were challenged by that. I certainly would have been! I would’ve been like, “Nah, I think you should probably stay. I think I’d rather have you around. I think I’d ‘rejoice’ that.”[3]

But upon remembering the context of this passage we maybe can see more clearly why Jesus urges that his ascension is something worth celebrating. For instance, remember last week’s text – which was the chapter before today’s (John 13). In it, Jesus promised that he will go to prepare a place with the Father for his people. That is a key promise for understanding the good news of the ascension.

Jesus’ departure isn’t a loss; it isn’t the end of something as much as it is the creation of something. As another scholar contends, “The ascension is Jesus Christ making a way for us back to the Father.”[4] With the ascension this access for us is completed. In other words, when we hear of the Ascension, we should be reminded that Christ has given us access to the Father.

But what does that mean for our lives now?

Well, from Christ’s words himself, his ascension should give us a peace now—27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled…

Christ’s ascension offers the peace of this promise: there is no gap between us and our Creator. With that promise we don’t have to suffer from an obsessive and neurotic drive to please the Father, or achieve some sort of divine satisfaction in order to make our own way to God’s eternity, or worry anxiously for the Father’s acceptance. Jesus promised to prepare that place. His ascension delivered on that promise. With the ascension we can be comforted in the fact that we are not an alienated people with no place for us.

Then, to really cement that promise – that we have an accessible home in God – Jesus promised in conjunction with the ascension that he does not leave us orphaned, but sends his Spirit to dwell within us—26the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will…remind you of all that I have said…

So, the promise tied to the ascension is the promise that God prepares a place for us, and that God remains with us—‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ (v. 28).

This is transformative power for us now. I heard a pastor once say that because of God’s love and presence, ‘what happens to you does not have to happen in you.’ I think this is a promise of this text. Our earthly troubles are real and they will happen to us, but Jesus’ ascension, Jesus’ promise to prepare a place and his promise of presence through the Spirit ensures that these things do not define us. This is because God’s grace and presence rule within us.

Cancer, poverty, injury, oppression, hatred, violence, abuse, isolation, rejection, etc.—these things happen to us. These troubles are real, they are threatening, they hurt, and they are not to be minimized. AND we have the promise of the Ascension of our Lord. God dwells in us. God’s Son makes a way. This promise reigns supreme.

Therefore in some strange way, Jesus’ ‘absence’ is no cause for concern, but is something sacred. One radical theologian urges us to think of things like the Ascension within the structure of a magic trick.

In classical magic there is the Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige.[5] The Pledge—here is the dove. The Turn—the dove goes into the hat, the hat is turned towards the audience. It has vanished. The Prestige is return of a new dove.

So, let’s apply that to the Ascension….

The PLEDGE: Resurrected Jesus: Here he is! The Risen Jesus!

           The TURN: The Ascension…I am going away (v. 28).

The PRESTIGE: Peace I leave with you…and I am coming to you (v. 27-28). A place is prepared. God is within us.

The Prestige: we belong to Christ, Christ is within. Blessedly assured, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we now represent Christ.

God has gone to make us an eternal home and we are “those in whom God makes a home.”[6] Despite the brutal challenges of life, we can have peace and meaning in this life now. The Prestige. Amen.

 

     [1] According to Karoline Lewis, this is not a conditional verb form/phrase in the original Greek text— Karoline Lewis, “Podcast #664 – Sixth Sunday of Easter,” Sermon Brainwave, Workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1140.

     [2] Ibid.

     [3] cf. Matthew Skinner, “Podcast #664 – Sixth Sunday of Easter,” Sermon Brainwave, Workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1140.

     [4] Rolf Jacobson, “Podcast #664 – Sixth Sunday of Easter,” Sermon Brainwave, Workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1140.

     [5] Peter Rollins, The Divine Magician: The Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith (New York: Howard Books, 2015), 123.

     [6] Sundays and Seasons Preaching: Year C 2019 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2018), 161.

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