Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Festival of the Ascension, 5/21/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 5pm, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Ascension Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s epistle lesson. To read the Bible texts for the festival of the Ascension, click here.
If you are craving actual, personal contact in the day of coronavirus, you might consider “the bubble;” not a bubble that you wear around like a hamster, (though I have already seen something like it sold on Amazon) but a small group of people.
During our most recent pandemic, this bubble is the new social network. A small group of friends get tested, and then agree to be exclusive. “We’ll only see you, and you’ll only see us. We can have barbecues and play dates, and hang out, just like the good ol’ days of normal.”
Naturally, your bubble is going to consist of people who are dear to you. They will be people you trust, and who trust you. Specifically, they will be people you trust not to break the bubble, because that is something that we are told could put you in danger.
Now, over the last 40 days, Jesus has been with His Apostles. He appeared to many, but Luke says something more in verse four of Acts 1: he writes that Jesus was staying with them.
Without overreading the text, it seems this level of contact with Jesus was both intimate and exclusive. To put it plainly: for the first days of Easter, Jesus’ bubble was quite small.
For the Apostles and some others, this was fantastic. The distance created by death and grave was too much to handle, but now they have received back their Friend and their God, safe and sound. Jesus was theirs, and they were His. So, when Ascension day comes, what are they to do? It all depends with how they understand the Ascension.
One option is to think of it as if Jesus just plain left. He was gone; then He came back; and now He’s gone again – like a flaky friend. Jesus has gone to heaven and left us here on earth. So much for being with us always, even to the end of the age. You might be thinking, “broken bubble.”
And this really is the easiest way to think of the Ascension, especially when life is difficult or painful or lonely, and Jesus feels far away, ascended into the heavens, no longer concerned with the Men of Galilee and Boston.
You may have thought that the resurrection meant this shouldn’t happen. Like the Apostles, it is easy to imagine that Jesus’ victory over death might also mean restoring the kingdom of Israel or its cousin: reclaiming America for Christianity. But it is not for us to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. (verse 7)
So how do the Apostles, and how do we, the Apostolic Church, get Ascension right?
St. Paul teaches the church in Ephesus about Jesus’ Ascension this way: in a discourse on thanksgiving and prayer, Paul refers to the Ascension as the demonstration of God’s might that He worked in Christ when He seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion… (Ephesians 1:20-21)
This became a hotly contested issue later on during the Reformation. In response to some radical reformers who thought Jesus was trapped in heaven like a prisoner, Luther surveyed the OT to demonstrate the crassness of glossing “God’s right hand” as a place. He had to show that “the right hand,” though referring figuratively to a place, represents God’s almighty power, which is active everywhere. The right hand of the Father can’t be tied down any more than other descriptions of God’s power. Thus, Luther writes:
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)
This is great fodder for Bible Study, but why bring it up now? Because:
…He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:22
So, the Ascension does not mean that Jesus broke the Apostles’ trust, nor did He break their bubble; instead, He expanded both of them. He expanded their bubble to include Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth (verse 8) That means you.
And He expanded their trust to include that which they no longer saw with their eyes. They will see Jesus now in His Body, the Church. They will serve Him by serving their neighbors, the little, the last, the least, the lost, and the dead. They will receive Him under bread and wine, His new mode of real, self-giving presence, as the Emmaus disciples learned on Easter Sunday.
Thus, the Church has always observed Ascension as a feast and not a fast. It is not a cause of mourning, but celebration; that Jesus has included us, that He lives now as the Church’s head, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.
To Him be all the glory, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.