Ascended into Heaven

Year A
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

This morning… I offer up a sermon that was prepared by Bp. Craig Satterlee… of the North/West Lower MI Synod… to commemorate The Feast of the Ascension… which occurred this past Thursday…

Contemplating our Lord’s Ascension… has given me hope this year… and I’m hoping that some words about the Ascension… will give you hope as well… in the Creeds… we confess that Jesus ascended into heaven… and is seated at the right hand of the Father… ascended to the heavens… seated at the right hand of the Father… the right hand of God… I don’t see Jesus sitting idly by… I see Jesus continuing his saving work… and scripture indicates that seated at God’s right hand in Glory… that’s exactly what Jesus is doing… scripture indicates… that seated at God’s right hand… ascended to the Father… Jesus is doing four things… Jesus is gifting… Jesus is praying… Jesus is sending… and Jesus is drawing to himself…

So whenever we ordain a pastor or a deacon… one of the sentences from the prayer is… we praise you that having ascended into heaven… Christ pours out his gifts abundantly on the church… making some apostles… some prophets… some pastors… and teachers… to equip your people for their work of ministry… for building up the body of Christ… that part of the prayer comes from Ephesians… it declares our faith… our belief… our conviction… our trust… that ascended into heaven… Jesus is bestowing gifts on the church…

I like to remember that apostles… prophets… pastors… and teachers… are all preachers… in one way or another… they preach… and so Jesus is bestowing gifts on the church… so that the proclamation of the Gospel… of God’s grace in Jesus Christ… and our salvation in his suffering… death… and resurrection… will continue…

So in the midst of a pandemic… when the church is certainly changed… in quieter moments… some will grieve that the church is threatened… or the church might not be around… I find hope in the promise… that ascended into heaven… Jesus is gifting the church… for the sake of ministry… and building up the body of Christ… and when we pause to look around to see the new ways… the new gifts… the new people… involved in leading the church in new ways… we know this promise is true…

Ascended into heaven… seated at God’s right hand… Jesus is gifting the church… Jesus is praying for us… I love the verse in Romans… where Paul refers to Jesus as…  yes… Christ who died… yes… who was raised from the dead… who ascended into heaven… who is seated at God’s right hand… who indeed intercedes for us…

Ascended into heaven… seated at God’s right hand… Jesus is praying for us… so I don’t know about you… but knowing that people are praying for me… is both a gift and a burden… the gift is that I know I’m not alone… I know have their support… I know that I am surrounded by a cloud of witness… I know that people love and care for me…

The burden… if you will… is that I don’t want to let them down… I don’t want to take them for granted… and to think that one of those people who prays for me… who prays for you… who prays for us… who prays for the church… who prays for the world… is Jesus… that’s pretty amazing…

Because what it says… in a very tangible way… through his prayer… Jesus is with us… always… to the close of the age… and pausing to think about Jesus… praying for us… inspires us to be our best… to be faithful… to strive to be like Jesus… and when we are at our best… our most faithful… striving to be like Jesus… in the confidence that Jesus is with us… praying for us… that’s a hopeful thing for us… and for the church… and for the world…

Seated at the right hand of the Father… ascended into heaven… Jesus sends the Holy Sprit… I will ask the Father… Jesus says in John’s Gospel… and he will send another Advocate to you… who will be with you forever… the Spirit of Truth… the Spirit brings to mind… what Jesus has said to us… and all the things that Jesus is still saying to us… 

Jesus draws all people… all creation to himself… I struggle with the Ascension… because we have been to the universe through our space telescopes… and we have not found Jesus seated at God’s right hand… that’s my scientific question… my theological problem… is God so loved the world that he gave the only beloved Son… so I can’t see God sending Jesus away from the world that God so loves… so I’ve kind concluded that God’s right hand may not be that far away… after all… in the book of Acts… when Stephen is being stoned… he looks up and sees the heaven opened… and Jesus standing at God’s right hand… so how far can we see… I’m being a little silly here… but what I’ve come to conclude is the Ascension may not be so much about space… but about time… Jesus ascends to the future… to God’s future… when Jesus will reign high above all rulers… and authorities… high above all powers and dominions… high above every name that is named… not only in this age… but in the age to come…

And from that place… Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to us… yes… Jesus bestows his gifts upon us… yes… Jesus prays for us… yes… but Jesus also draws us… draws his church… draws all creation to himself… you all know that one of my favorite Bible verses is from John… And I… when I am lifted up from the earth… will draw all people… I would say all creation… to myself…

Which means the pandemic won’t win… social distancing won’t last… the time will come when it will be safe to return to church… and to the Table… and to our friendships… and to our families… and to life… more importantly the time will come when racism will be forgotten… when hunger will be no more… when discrimination will be over… when everyone will have enough… and more than enough… and a place at the Table…

The powers of death that are at work in the world… they rear their ugly heads… and resist the love of God… but seated at God’s right hand… ascended into heaven… Jesus draws us to himself… and nothing will stop him… that’s hope… and despite everything that’s going on in the world… in Christ there is hope… there is life… because Jesus… risen from the dead… ascended to God… continues to love and save us… Amen…

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family. He relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the ELCA N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and is currently finishing the final year of a practicum to become a Spiritual Director.