Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord 5/13/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 7pm, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Ascension Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and epistle lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Ascension, click here.
Forty days ago, Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb, when, all of a sudden, she found herself flanked by two angels dressed in white. “Woman,” they asked, “why are you weeping?” And then their job was done.
Jesus came to her Himself. And she hugged him so intensely and fervently – with a hug that only parents and children seem to have the instinct for. It was an embrace that had no regard for His scourged back or pierced side; though certainly that wasn’t an issue anymore.
But then there was a troubling correction:
Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” John 20:17
It’s difficult to imagine letting go of someone you just got back. This is magnified all the more when that person is Jesus. But she did. Despite the gravity of the situation, John records it so matter-of-factly:
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” – and that He had said these things to her. John 20:18
Mary had everything she wanted wrapped up firmly between her right and left arms. And yet, Jesus says that this is not the time for her to cling to Him. Of course, there would be more opportunities to grab on to Jesus over the next forty days. He would appear many times to His disciples and others: Jesus would eat with them, laugh with them, and comfort them. He would even let them poke around a bit.
But now the forty days are up. Now the ascension Jesus had been speaking about is actually happening. Now He is taken from their sight once more. Now the disciples begin to wonder how they could ever cling to Jesus again. Enter those two familiar angels dressed in white.
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven. verse 11
They were looking into the sky because this was strange for them. During the last forty days, Jesus appeared and disappeared in the blink of an eye. Always with the expectation that He would be right back. But this sort of an exit was different. It left them wondering with Mary Magdalene… If we weren’t to keep on clinging to Him these last forty days… How will we cling to Him now?
The happy answer for them and for you is this: Christ’s ascension into heaven does not mark His divine absence. Just the opposite. Christ’s ascension into heaven marks His divine presence.
Jesus’ state of humiliation is complete. No more will He allow Himself to be limited in the ways you and I are limited. No more laying aside those divine attributes which properly belong to Him as God. No more will Jesus be clung to in one room in one city in one country. Now, Jesus can be clung to everywhere and by everyone.
It’s right there in the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark, which you just heard. Jesus’ being seated at the right hand of the Father is pure comfort. Pastor Luther writes about it this way:
The Scriptures teach us, however, that the right hand of God is not a specific place in which a body must or may be, such as on a golden throne, but is the almighty power of God, which at one and the same time can be nowhere and yet must be everywhere… Come and tell me now, where are his head, arm, breast, body, if with his feet he fills the earth and with his legs he fills heaven? (AE 37:57,59)
“The right hand of God,” means that Jesus is here and not some undisclosed “there.” But this is a description of God’s omnipresence – His “everywhereness.” It means He who fills heaven and earth completely, has still chosen to be somewhere for you specifically.
Thus, you can grasp Jesus and cling to Him more fully Mary Magdelene; more deeply than Thomas; and more frequently than the disciples in those forty days.
In your Baptism, Christ has cemented Himself to you. He has promised that where He is you also will be. There is nowhere you can go that He will not go with you.
In His Holy Absolution and in the proclamation of the Gospel, Jesus touches your ears with His living voice. As He said: He who hears you, hears Me. Luke 10:16
In His Holy Supper, He offers Himself – His Body and Blood – not merely to be grasped – but to be consumed, to be eaten and drank.
Now you may cling to Him, even as He clings to you, because He has ascended to the Father.
Do not look up into heaven. Jesus gives Himself to you here and now in this place at this time. To Him be all the glory, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.