More on the Ascension of Christ. . . .I keep reading on evangelical sites that with His Ascension, Jesus says goodbye, that He left at the most inopportune time, that the disciples now must carry on after Jesus is gone, that Jesus isn’t with us anymore until He returns.  Such laments about the absence of Jesus completely miss the point about the true meaning of His Ascension.

As an antidote to these misunderstandings and to further celebrate Ascension Day and Ascension Sunday, I urge you to read this sermon by Martin Luther.

From “A sermon by Dr. Martin Luther on the last chapter of St. Mark. While the eleven were sitting at meat Christ manifested himself and reproved them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, 1523.”  German text: Erlangen Edition, 12:169; Walch Edition, 11:1256; St. Louis Walch, 11:931.  Via Godrules.net

24. We must, therefore, conceive of his ascension and Lordship as something active, energetic and continuous, and must not imagine that he sits above while we hold the reins of government down here. Nay, he ascended up thither for the reason that there he can best do his work and exercisedominion. Had he remained upon earth in visible form, before the people, he could not have wrought so effectually, for all the people could not have been with him and heard him. Therefore, he inaugurated an expedient which made it possible for him to be in touch with all and reign in all, to preach to all and be heard by all, and to be with all. Therefore, beware lest you imagine within yourself that he has gone, and now is, far away from us. The very opposite is true: While he was on earth, he was far away from us; now he is very near. . . .

26. In the first place, Psalm 8:4-6 says of Christ: “What is man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” Here the prophet speaks to God concerning a man and marvels that God humbled, for a time, that man, when he suffered him to die, humbled him to the extent that it seemed as if God were not with him. But after a little while God exalted him, so that all things must obey him, both in heaven and on earth. To these words we must hold, to these words we must cling, in these words we must believe; for reason will not submit nor adapt itself to them, but says they are lies. Now, if all things are to be subject to this being and to fall at his feet, he must sit where he can look into the whole world, into heaven and hell and every heart; where he can see all sin and all righteousness, and can not only see all things, But can rule accordingly.

27. Hence, these are majestic and powerful words. They afford the heart great comfort, so that they who believe this are filled with joy and courage and defiantly say: My LordJesusChrist is Lord over deathSatansinrighteousness, body, life, foes and friends. What shall I fear? For while my enemies stand before my very doorand plan to slay me, my faith reasons thus: Christ is ascended into heaven and become Lord over all creatures, hence my enemies, too, must be subject to him and thus it is not in their power to do me harm. I challenge them to raise a finger against me or to injure a hair of my head against the will of my LordJesusChrist. When faith grasps and stands upon this article, it stands firm and waxes bold and defiant, so as even to say: If my Lord so wills that they, mine enemiesslay me, blessed am I; I gladly depart. Thus you will see that he is ascended into heaven, not to remain in indifference, but to exercisedominion; and all for our good, to afford us comfort and joy. . . .

30. Again in still another Psalm, David says ( Psalm 68:18): “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led away captives; thou hast received gifts among men, yea among the rebellious also, that JehovahGod might dwell with them.” And all the prophets took great pains to describe Christ’s ascension and his kingdom. For, as his sufferings and death are deeply founded in the Scriptures, so are also his kingdom, his resurrection and ascension. In this manner we must view the ascension of Christ. Otherwise it will afford us neither pleasure nor profit. For what good will it do you if you merely preach that he ascended up to heaven and sits there with folded hands? This is what the prophet would say in the Psalm Christ is ascended on high and has led captivity captive. That is to say, not only does he sit up there but he is also down here. And for this purpose did he ascend up thither, that he might be down here, that he might fill all things and be everywhere present; which thing he could not do had he remained on earth, for here in the body he could not have been present with all. He ascended to heaven, where all hearts can see him, where he can deal with all men, that he might fill all creation. He is present everywhere and all things are filled with his fullness. Nothing is so great, be it in heaven or on earth, but he has power over it, and it must be in perfect obedience to him. He not only governs and fills all creation (that would not help my faith any nor take away my sins), but also has led captivity captive. . . .

32. From this captivity no one can free himself, save only that one man Christ. What did he do? He made sindeath, and Satan his debtorsSin fell upon him as though it would vanquish him, but it lost the day; he devouredsin. And Satandeath, and hell fared the same way. But we are unable to do this unless he be present to aid us. Alone, we must needs perish, But he, since he had done no sin and was full of righteousness, trod under footSatandeath and hell, and devoured them, and took everything captive that fain would capture us, so that sin and death no longer can do harm.

33. This, then, is the power he causes to be preached, that all who believe in him are released from captivity. I believe in him by whom sindeath, and all things that afflict us, were led captive. It is a pleasing discourse, and full of comfort, when we are told that death is taken away and slain, so that it is no longer felt. However, it affords pleasure and comfort only to those who believe it. You will not find release from captivity in your works, fastings, prayers, castigations, tonsures, and gowns, and whatever more things you may do; but only in the place where Christ sits, whither he ascended and whither he led captivity with him. Hence, he who would be freed from sin and delivered from Satan and death, must come thither where Christ is. Now, where is he? He is here with us, and for this purpose did he sit down in heaven, that he might be near unto us. Thus, we are with him up there and he is with us down here. Through the word he comes down and through faith we ascend up.

[Keep reading. . .]

 

Painting by William Henry Margetson via Flickr, Creative Commons License

Ascension Day, May 5, commemorating Christ’s taking His place in the Godhead at the right hand of God the Father, is an important holiday.  Because of His Ascension, Christ fills all things.  Thus, He can be present in the Lord’s Supper; thus, He is present with His church; thus, He rules over all things.  After the jump, read what St. Paul says about the Ascension and read two more striking essays on the holiday, including what Douglas Farrow says about the political implications (so to speak) of Christ’s ascension. (more…)

Yesterday was Ascension Day, marking the resurrected Christ’s return to His Father.  Pastor Reeder quotes the classic Bible scholar Paul E. Kretzmann on what the Ascension means:

“By His exaltation and ascension the Son of Man, also according to His human body, has entered into the full and unlimited use of His divine omnipresence. His gracious presence is therefore assured to His congregation on earth. He is now nearer to His believers than He was to His disciples in the days of His flesh.

He is now sitting at the right hand of His heavenly Father. As our Brother He has assumed the full use of the divine power and majesty. He reigns with omnipotence over all things, but especially also over His Church. God has put all things under His feet, and has given Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, Eph. 1, 22. 23.

By His Word and Sacrament He gathers unto Himself a congregation and Church upon earth. He works in and with His servants; He governs in the midst of His enemies. He preserves and protects His Church against all the enmity of the hostile world and against the very portals of hell. And His intercession before His heavenly Father makes our salvation a certainty, Rom. 8, 34.”

via On the Lord’s Ascension « Pastor Reeder’s Blog.

Strangely, the Reformed use the Ascension as an argument against the presence of Christ in the sacrament.  (“Jesus isn’t here any more.  He’s in Heaven.”)  But Lutherans use the Ascension as an argument for the Real Presence, since now the Son of God, having taken His place in the Godhead, is omnipresent.

That was yesterday.  Sorry I missed it.  Ascension Day marks an important event, but it is odd the way Protestants interpret it in two opposite ways.  For the Reformed, that Christ ascended into Heaven means that this is where His body is, so it can’t be on the altars of churches celebrating Holy Communion.  But Lutherans say that the taking up of the man Jesus into the Godhead makes the doctrine of the Real Presence possible, since now this flesh and blood human being shares the attributes of the Trinity, including omnipresence.

Today is Ascension Day, the 40th day after Easter, commemorating the day on which our Risen Lord ascended into Heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father Almighty.

It’s odd that the significance of Christ’s ascension is taken in two opposite ways: The Reformed say that it means Christ is ABSENT, no longer on earth, so that His real presence in the sacrament is impossible. Lutherans say that it means Christ, at the right hand of Power, His human nature assumed into the Holy Trinity, can now be omnipresent, so that He CAN be on every altar.

Ascension Day used to be a hugely important day in the church year. How can we bring it back?

Yesterday was another major holy-day:  Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ and ten days after His ascension, at which time the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church.

There are many misconceptions about this particular person in the Holy Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is not just a force or power, not just the aspect of God who dwells within, not just a subjective phenomenon.  Here is what the Nicene Creed says about Him:

And I believe in the Holy Ghost,

I’m using the classic three-language edition of the Book of Concord here, which uses the old word “ghost” instead of “spirit.”  In early English, “ghost” and “spirit” meant the same thing–as in “give up the ghost”–so there are no associations of Caspar or haunted houses in the creed.  Still, I kind of like “Holy Ghost,” not just because it is more evocative of mystery, but because “spirit” has become more tame, something that all of us have, including the “spiritual but not religious,” so that the Holy Spirit can be confused with our spirit, which can become holy.  But our spirits can only become holy by the Holy Ghost.

the Lord and Giver of life,

The Holy Spirit (I’ll keep using that translation) is “the Lord,” as is the Father and the Son.  The Holy Spirit is the giver of life.  This recalls how God breathed into the dust that He formed and made it alive (Genesis 2:7).  (The Hebrew word for “spirit” is related to the word for “breath.”)  But the Holy Spirit is also the giver of our new life in Christ.  He convicts us of sin (John 16:8), and He creates faith in Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:3).

who proceedeth from the Father and the Son;

This article speaks of the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity.  In the distinction made by the Athanasian Creed, the Son is “begotten”; the Spirit “proceeds.”  But it also means that the life-giving Holy Spirit is sent to us by the Father and the Son.  The original reading of the Nicene Creed, still insisted upon by the Eastern Orthodox, says that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father.”  The Western church added “and the Son.”  Though there was arguably no ecclesiastical authority for adding that phrase, it is surely Biblical.  As Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified;

The Holy Spirit is a Person of the Trinity.  When we worship and glorify God, we are worshipping and glorifying the Holy Spirit, along with the Father and the Son.

who spake by the Prophets.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us by means of the authors of Holy Scripture.  If we want to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say to us, we should not just listen for some interior voice.  Rather, all we have to do is open the Bible!  Thus, the Holy Spirit is always accessible to us by means of His living and active Word.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

The Holy Spirit creates, sustains, and sanctifies the church.  “Catholic” is not to be thought of as the “Roman Catholic Church.”  The usual Lutheran rendition is “Christian church,” though this older rendition keeps the textually correct wording “Catholic.”  It’s worth retaining.  It means not just “universal” but “according to the whole.”  That is, the church is a “whole.”  We Christians are part of something far larger than ourselves, an organism that extends throughout the world and extends back through time.

“Apostolic” does not mean a succession of bishops, as some say, but a church that follows the teachings of Christ’s apostles.  That is, it is in accord with the New Testament.

I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins;

The Holy Spirit comes to us by means of the Word, as was said, and also by the Sacraments.  The Holy Spirit makes baptism effectual by creating faith in the Gospel of Christ, and thus accomplishing the remission of sins.

Thus, “God our savior. . .saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen

The Holy Spirit, the giver of life, will give all of us life again at the last day. “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:13-4).

 

Illustration:  Pentecost [Detail] by Luis Tristán (1585-1624).  Public domain.  http://pintura.aut.org/BU04?Autnum=11.617&EmpNum=15069, Domínio público, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3037197

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