Happy Objects of Grace
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
St. Luke has been gathering together on Ascension for so long, you may be surprised to know that many a church is dark this evening. The Ascension, long a pillar in the church year, has lost its standing even among our own Synodical fellowship. But this is no modern problem. St. Mark reports Christ “upbraided [the disciples] on account of their unbelief and hardness of heart.” He upbraided them—rebuked them, chastised them, corrected them. God is no lover of faithlessness and though well-pleased with His Beloved Son, often in His disciples He was less than pleased—less than pleased with their hardness of heart, and unbelief. Does unbelief seem harsh? Well it is unbelief, for it was rooted and grounded—made manifest—in their not believing the reports of Jesus’ resurrection.
And sharing the faith of our father Adam, just like the Disciples we have hardness of heart and unbelief. We’d like to think that we’re different, but perhaps not? Scripture reports over and over that when Christ would come to this or that place, the whole village shows. Yet here, though Christ has come just as surely now as then, the whole village has not gathered; much less our whole congregation. But before you mistake me, I am not here preaching to you about those who for whatever reason have not come. This day is no different than any other—there are no days of holy obligation, that is, this is not a day that it is required that one attend to the Service of the Church, indeed Christ’s Holy Communion. And that’s why you’ve come, isn’t it? You, like those precious saints of old have also come asking, “Sir we would see Jesus!”
If that’s why you’ve come, you’ll not leave disappointed. You, just like me for so many years, you may have come to church tonight thinking that Ascension Day is a great day of celebration—and it is—a great day celebrating the Lord Jesus’ leaving for heaven—but it’s not. A great celebration it is, but we celebrate not His leaving, but rather we celebrate as the One True Church always celebrates: His coming—again and again and again until that day when, He shall come once and for all bringing that Eternal Feast which we partake of tonight now as a foretaste.
And we are thus gathered in His name. Baptized, we are “happy objects of His grace… destined to see Him face to face.” Happy objects of His grace, for when we hear Christ taken up into heaven, taken up to that holiest and highest place, we rejoice. Baptized into His Name, as we see Christ Jesus received up into heaven, indeed we see our own future.
We are gathered to celebrate His great “once for all” sacrifice. From His “it-is-finished”-cross, the Christ of God declares the whole world innocent of sin, and for those who here receive Him, His righteousness is imputed, declared, and put upon all men as their own, is put upon each and every one of us, personally by the hand of Him who, ascended, sits at the right hand of His Father.
So rightly we are here gathered and celebrate this most Holy Communion. Many in the Christian community happily preach of the Christ risen from the dead thinking they have preached all that needs to be said. But with the Holy Spirit, that is not the end of the story. Yes, having risen from the dead, Jesus conquered death and the battle is over, but in His Ascension shows us what His rising from the dead means. Of course it was a great miracle that He had risen from the dead at all. But God had raised others from the dead before. In Jesus’ day, who could have forgotten Lazarus. And how about Jairus’ daughter: “Talitha cum…”? Yet both Lazarus and the little girl fell asleep again.
But no so with Jesus, he was not subject to death. And the Disciples witnessed the perfect bookend to Jesus’ resurrection: “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
Why is this day regarded as one of the pillars of the Church’s Year, a Chief Festivals? To the Church, namely to those that “believe and are baptized,” Christ says, “Where I go, you can not follow me now; but you shall follow me afterward.” And even more clearly remember He said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” As Christ ascended to heaven and sitts at the right hand of the Father, *even so shall we His Church.*
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
And indeed we who remain until that day, when one day, like our Lord Jesus Christ in an instant, “… in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump…” we too “shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
For the Lord Himself shall descend, from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” And the Holy Spirit has appointed that we should “comfort one another with these words.
And comfort one another He will for at that very moment, the Church—who now finds Herself weeping and wailing, crying and mourning on account of our manifold afflictions—at *that* moment all will be changed and our mourning will be forever turned to joy. And we will continue with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in that eternal song of “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth!” and “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…”
We will there again be gathered, much like today, as “Happy objects of His grace…” not only “destined to see His face”, but then in its fullness, the promise of our Baptism delivered then in its fullness. And as fantastic as all that is, that’s still not all there is to Ascension. For we worship neither a Jesus or a promise which is far off, for the ascending Christ says, “Lo, I am with you always.” And “always” He is.
The feast before us tonight is not a Feast of Christ’s leaving, but as we said, His Coming—again and again and again. And thus he comes to us again tonight, “For I have received from the Lord that which I delivered to you, ‘That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: And when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘Take, eat: this is my body, which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ After the same manner also He took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the New Testament in My blood: this do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death until he come.”
Yes, “until He comes” we shall drink as He says, “Drink…” for the remission of all our sins. His unbelieving disciples made faithful by His Voice, “went forth” praising and preaching the Lord who died and was raised, and even more than that, ascended. What greater sign can there be than the God who created all things, who now sits at the Father’s Right Hand, what greater sign can there be to the Faithful than the coming of His Body and His Blood, this heavenly treasure borne here of humble bread and wine to strengthen and preserve us in the One True Faith unto life everlasting.
God grant us, the happy objects of His grace—you and I who are destined to see Him face to face—to see Him here now in these humble means. God grant us the grace to faithfully eat His Holy Meal which secures us in that heritage of our baptism which is the one and only true faith, unto life everlasting,
Hark! ten thousand harps and voices
Sound the note of praise above;
Jesus reigns, and heaven rejoices,–
Jesus reigns, the God of Love.
See, He sits on yonder throne;
Jesus rules the world alone.
Come, ye saints, unite your praises
With the angels round His throne;
Soon, we hope, our God will raise us
To the place where He is gone.
Meet it is that we should sing,
“Glory, glory, to our King!”
Sing how Jesus came from heaven,
How He bore the cross below,
How all power to Him is given,
How He reigns in glory now;
‘Tis a great and endless theme,
Oh, ’tis sweet to sing of Him!
Jesus, hail! Thy glory brightens
All above and gives it worth;
Lord of Life, Thy smile enlightens,
Cheers, and charms Thy saints on earth.
When we think of love like Thine,
Lord, we own it love divine.
King of Glory, reign forever;
Thine an everlasting crown.
Nothing from Thy love shall sever
Those whom Thou hast made Thine own,
Happy objects of Thy grace,
Destined to behold Thy face.
Savior, hasten Thine appearing;
Bring, oh, bring, the glorious day
When, the awe-full summons hearing,
Heaven and earth shall pass away;
Then with golden harps we’ll sing,
“Glory, glory, to our King!”
Hark! Ten Thousand Harps and Voices
by Thomas Kelly, 1769-1854
First preached at: St. Luke, Clinton Twp., MI
May 29, 2003
Exegetical notes from Concordia Pulpit Resources