We are destined to come home, to be home with God, to join Jesus there where we will see God and see him face to face.
An Ascension Sunday reflection by Fr. Jack Estes
44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
The Ascension of Jesus50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
KEY TOPICS Christ's ascension, Jesus Christ, Ascension Sunday, God's presence, exalted Jesus, man in heaven, Christ in heaven, time to pray, just pray, completing God's plan of salvation, part of Easter, disciples of Christ, Holy Spirit
Let us pray. Lord, once again we pray and we ask that even as you were lifted up into the heavens on that day, and as you sit at the right hand of God, the Father interceding for us now, pray for us, Lord, that we too can be lifted up into Your presence into the glory and exultation of your throne. In our hearts and our minds and our spirits, even in our physical bodies, Lord, we pray, lift us up in this day, in your holy name, Amen. Please be seated.
A wonderful thought is to be lifted up, above all that kind of clamor, darkness and muck and mire of this world.
Well, good morning once again. Good morning, and welcome to Ascension Sunday, Ascension Sunday. Thank you, Lord. This is our special feast day. Because we are Ascension Anglican Church. We are named for this feast; named for this Sunday. Well, technically liturgically, this is the seventh Sunday of Easter, the last Sunday of the Easter season. And technically it's the Sunday called the Sunday after the ascension. Because as you may be aware, the actual Feast Day of Ascension, always falls on a Thursday, 40 days following the celebration of Easter. Forty in the Scripture always signifies the fullness of time, the completeness of everything that needs to take place. So Jesus' ascension comes after he's resurrected from the dead and that fresh open that new life comes forth. He spends the complete fullness amount of time that is needed to be with his disciples, to complete the work that he had come to do here on Earth. And then he ascends back into heaven.
So the actual Feast Day for Ascension was last Thursday and always comes just prior to the end to the completion of the Easter season and the celebration of Pentecost, which is next Sunday. So just before we go to Pentecost, as Easter ends, the ascension takes place. But because of this, because the the ascension is kind of sandwiched in between Easter and Pentecost, the significance of the ascension is often missed, I think. As the church focuses on the grand events at the resurrection of Jesus, Easter bursting forth from the tomb. And then next, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, empowering the disciples to be God's witnesses throughout the earth, establishing the church, as the church is focused on the resurrection and on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Ascension just can become a little blip on the radar, a blip on the calendar going by, especially since it comes during the week, on a Thursday. For my friends, the significance of the ascension should never be missed. It cannot be understated.
Let me quote from my dictionary of biblical theology. You guys have that on your shelf, right--a little light reading in the evening, the dictionary of biblical theology regarding the ascension. The Ascension is not only a great fact of the New Testament, but a great factor in the life of Christ, and of Christians. No complete view of Jesus Christ is possible without it. Without the inclusion of the ascension and its consequences. It is the consummation of his redemptive work, is the completion of God's work of salvation. The Christ of the Gospels is the Christ of history, the Christ of the past. But the full picture of the New Testament is the living Christ, the Christ of Heaven. The Christ that's seated at the right hand of the Father, the Christ that ascended there, present, and future. All this depends on what? The ascension.
It all depends on the the ascension.
So the significance of the ascension should never be missed. Perhaps that's why God named us Ascension Anglican, you know, there aren't very many Ascension Anglicans around. I mean, we're all here, but in your churches. If you look in the church, you know, Anglican Church directories, you just there just aren't any. There are some churches of the of the ascension. But I Ascension Anglican is our particular name. God named us that way, I think because he doesn't want us to miss the significance of the ascension. And he wants us to embody, to represent the significance to the church and to the world. So that we may grow in understanding so that the world may also see and think, What is this ascension? Why, why is this so important? We are the people of the ascension. The community of faith is designated--that's our identity. God has written ascension in our hearts. Amen. He's written it on our forehead, like they say in Revelation, they write his name on our forehead. He's put it on our signs, he's embedded it into our identity.
How do you identify with that? I'm curious, I'd like to hear. We've been Ascension Anglican for many years now. How has God formed you into that identity? What does the ascension mean to you? Or what special characteristics? You know In the Bible, we were talking the other night about this about names when someone is named in the Holy Scripture. There's deep significance to that. The name describes the character, describes the nature, sometimes the calling, the purpose that God has given to that person. Even we see names changed, like Abram to Abraham, the father of the nations, or Jacob, which literally means schemer, heel grabber to Israel, the one who leans on, depends on God.
God has named us Ascension, what sort of characteristics, sort of things is he working in you? As people have the Ascension, I think it's good for us to reflect on that, isn't it? So join with me also this morning then in reflecting on some of these characteristics, some of the themes of the ascension that we may also grow in our own identity as the people of the ascension. So first, we're gonna think about the actual event of the ascension.
The ascension is an event. It's a part of the drama of salvation history that concludes Jesus' time here on Earth. Secondly, I want to think about the spiritual principle of a sending, or a ascent, which is found running throughout the Holy Scripture. And you often hear me pray this way or say things like this, like we are ascending the holy mountain, who shall stand in the presence of the Lord, those who ascend up into his blessing, into His presence. So the event of the ascension, the spiritual principle, the discipline of ascending, ascension is discipleship. And then lastly, our own ministry here at Ascension. As we bring that ascending message that ascending grace, as we reflect that, shine that out into the world, shine it out onto Facebook and beyond to our community around us. So you might have noticed this morning that I, took a little pastoral prerogative, first my scripture reference here. Pastoral prerogative, and for this morning, I actually took a step back and used the scripture readings from the actual Feast Day of Ascension, because in these scriptures, we have the actual event, the story of Jesus' ascension taking place.
So first and foremost, the the the ascension is an event of great significance. As I said, it completes God's plan of salvation--completes the conclusion of Jesus's earthly ministry here as he brought the kingdom of God, as he brought the Gospel as he came to redeem us. And if we track it through, you know, we always, we're gonna say in just a few minutes here, in the Holy Eucharist, "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." Those are all great events of salvation history. But there's one that's missing. Remember, we did a little blip in there as we were going past, from Easter to the return of Christ.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ has ascended. Then Christ will come again. Christ is ascended--then the Holy Spirit is poured out. Christ is ascended. He can't return until he first goes back to heaven. Christ is born, I think we could add that and often think at Christmas time, it's like, well, we're kind of missing the fact that Christ was born. Now, Jesus, the eternal Son of God began in the heavens, he was actually the agent of creation that created all that we see, all that we are. He's the head of the church, he began with God, in the creation, and as we rebelled and fell and had no way to get back to God. Then he came, he came down, he descended first, he descended to be among us, he was born, he gathered up our sins, absorbed them on the cross, He was resurrected from the dead. He overcame. He came to redeem us, to gather us, and then to take us back into heaven. In the event of the ascension, our humanity is redeemed back into the presence of God.
There's a man in heaven! See, there it is, look up there. What if they had ancient newscasters, right? And newscasters could go back, you know? "That's right, we're here today and Jesus has just ascended. There's a man in heaven! News at 11."
Don't miss the significance of that. Our humanity now is in the presence of living man human Jesus, redeemed man is now in the presence of God. He can stand in the Holy of Holies, in the holy presence of God without fear. He's redeemed, and he brings us also to be redeemed. There's a man in heaven returned to be with God. Adam fell, he descended Christ ascends. He redeems our humanity and takes us home. That's where we're going, my friends. Jesus said, "In my Father's house, there are many mansions. And I'm going to prepare a place for you." Well, he could have said, "I'm ascending there to prepare a place for you." And if I ascend there, then I will come and get you. And you will ascend there to dwell with God. It's a homecoming. The Ascension results in our homecoming.
Jenny was at a conference, Daughters of Holy Cross, recently, and Bishop Mark Lawrence was there. And he got on to talking about the ascension. And this is what he said. He said, "The Ascension is our homecoming. The ascension is the most vital thing. Jesus did everything. He accomplished everything. But the the final step was he took us home, he took our humanity home." And I think he told the story about actually a baby being born. And first opening his eyes and it was so bright, he could hardly open the eyes. But then the father was standing by there, and the baby recognize the father's voice, because after all the babies can hear in the womb. And he turned to us looked at isn't that right? And he said, This is what the ascension is. We're gonna you know, it'll be so glorious that we'll be trying to get our eyes open but then we will hear our father's voice! We will hear our father's voice because we will be home. The journey is not finished until the plan of salvation is not complete without the ascension. Jesus cannot return, come again without first ascending. The Holy Spirit, the promise of the Holy Spirit could not be fulfilled, cannot be realized until Jesus ascended. He said to the disciples, it's expedient that I ascend because if I don't, the Holy Spirit won't come. And here at the event of the ascension, then, is the promise given a certified to wait because the power of the Spirit is coming next week. Next week, it's coming on Pentecost. The good news is not complete without this final ascension, this event into the presence of God.
This is the gospel. We are destined to come home, to be home with God, to join Jesus there where we will see God and see him face to face. Jesus's ascends and this event, the completion of God's plan of salvation. There's a man in heaven now and makes possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. He concludes his earthly ministry.
And the other part that is really clear in Scripture about the the ascension is that in this event, Jesus is exalted. He is exalted. And we hear that in our reading from Ephesians, the immeasurable power that towards those who believe he worked in Christ, when he raised Him from the dead, and ascended him is seated at the right hand and heavenly places. Now, Jesus is glorified. He is exalted. He is in his next state of being, as King of kings and Lord of lords over all the world, all the universe. He exalted, far above all rule, authority, power, dominion, and every name that is named -- not only in this age, but in the one to come.
He put all things under his feet, and gave him his head of all things to come to and head over all the church. So in this event, then, God's plan of salvation, Jesus' ministry is completed, and he's exalted into heaven. So the ascension is an event. Ascension also embodies a biblical principle, one that we try to walk in. One that I would encourage us to lay hold of, on this Ascension Sunday--the biblical principle of ascending, of ascent, making our ascent to God. That's the journey isn't it? I've often said that the journey through this world is the journey of becoming who God has created us to be. It's the journey of becoming our true identity. It's a journey of becoming the the name of the white stone that God will, the Lord will give to each one of you when we stand before him. Your character, your nature, it's a journey of ascending, ascending out of this slogging along and slogging through the mud and the blood and the confusion and the lies and the sin and the whole cauldron that you know, the sea of confusion that has gripped this world. And the climb. Climb up. Those of you who have climbed up in the Sierras, you know what I'm talking about? Doug Starr, my good friend, he took us on a journey of ascent. He climbed up higher into the mountains. As you climb, what did he find? The air was fresh, water pure, fragrance of the pines. All God's creation in splendor around him--closer into the presence of God.
In a similar manner we in our spiritual lives, we are called, Jesus calling us, "Come up here come higher." To climb up. To leave our sinful ways to breathe the clear air, to to purify our thoughts and our hearts from all the pollution. To ascend is spiritual principle. It's a spiritual discipline, Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord, who shall stand in his holy mountain? The one who has clean hands, and a pure heart. If you have been raised then with Christ, set your thoughts on things above. Let your thoughts ascend to things above where Christ is.
Jesus is lifted up in the Gospel, and in the Gospel of Luke he is he is lifted up, lifted up into the heavens. And as followers of Jesus one day we will also be lifted up out of this world into His presence. So the ascension calls us as the people of ascension to live it, you know, and it was a principle of ascend, of being lifted up, to rise up above the fray, to rise up above our sinful natures, to rise up our natural inclinations to you know, get in there and do what we think we should do. Hhave you ever experienced that? It's not easy to get up above the fray is it? Can you think of a time when you were like, just lifted up and you just stayed above the fray? And in doing that you had brought God's presence and His kingdom into whatever situation? Not long ago, I went to Rite Aid because I had to get a prescription. And I came in and I thought, "Oh, great. There's no line. I'm the only one." But when I got to the little footprints, there where to stand on little footprints and wait. Then I realized there was another man in front of me at the counter. And he was just railing against the pharmacy girl that was there. "I want my prescription!!!" And she's going well, I'm sorry. But you know, you can't get this filled until, you know, for another week, because it's a controlled substance, and you can't get it until then." "Well, you've got it all wrong. What's the matter with you incompetent people? I want to say the pharmacist!"
So all of a sudden, I'm thinking, "This guy's out of control. I better step in there and tell him, hey, you need to shut up my friend."
I don't know, you know, I might not be such a good. Oh, and he's just just berating the staff. And I'm just like, "Where's security?" Then, "No, you don't need to jump into the fray. You need to be above the fray." I mean, I wasn't thinking that at the time. But I just feel like God said, "Just pray. And you know, I have people here who have authority here, and they're gonna deal with it you know. So I just began to pray. And then pretty soon he's like, "Oh, I'm out of here. If you guys can't do this for me," and he stomps out. I'm next in line. And they're just like, I mean, you know how it is, when you run into something like that the poor, you know, the little girl and the pharmacist woman there. "You guys really handled that well. Bless you. That was really difficult. I just pray that God will lift you up." And it was an opportunity. And as I thought about this sermon, this one I thought, you know, what was happening there was I was inviting them to ascend up above all of that conflict and all that mess and those lies that were thrown. And I was able to pray and say, Lord, I pray, Lord, bless them, restore them, lift them up into your presence. And you could just see the countenance just go, Ah, this guy's not gonna yell at us like the last guy.
My friends, that is that discipline that God calls us to live in. To live above the fray, lift it up. That's our destiny. I've been saying, you know, we're on the way to the resurrection. We're also on the way to the ascension. We will all one day ascend. Either when we die and we complete this journey we'll ascend into God's presence then, or will ascend when Jesus returns and we see him in the sky, and we all, Paul says, are lifted up. We ascend up into the air.
As disciples, as followers of Jesus, we are making our ascent, Amen. Upward into holiness, repentance and holiness, climbing the holy mountain, step by step, day by day; and if we slip and fall back down always, then we get back up and Jesus helps us and we begin again. Climbing closer into the presence of God.
We are making our ascent when we set our minds on His Word. We are making our ascent when we set aside time to pray. We are making ascent when we reach out with compassion. When we preach the gospel, we are making our ascent and when we come into His presence in the Holy Sacrament.
How will you be following Jesus in this week ahead? Where will you be ascending? Where is he is calling you to ascend? We make our ascent when we decide we're going to come to church. And maybe it's been a long time, and it's really scary. But we ascend up, and God gives us our grace, gives us grace to be here.
So the ascension is an event. Ascension is a spiritual principle that has now become part of our very identity, our ministry, it's a way of life, my friends, a way, a mode of being. The significance of the ascension cannot be missed. It cannot be understated. That's why God named us Ascension Anglican. He's calling us to live in that state of being lifted up, growing closer to God. It's our calling our identity. It's the name that God has written upon our hearts. You have ascension in your hearts. As we gather on this Ascension Sunday, we embody that event and we display that principle. And we bring to mind we bring them to mind and we show them like I did, that on that moment in the pharmacy, we show that it's possible to live lifted up above this world. Because Jesus has ascended into heaven. He has redeemed our humanity and taken us home. And one day, we will all follow Jesus. We will all ascend there as well.
My final thought here this morning on this Ascension Sunday, something that really I noticed for the first time in reading in reading the Gospel, and the story of Jesus' ascension, he gathers the disciples, he's completing his time with them. He's giving them His Word. He's explained to them everything's fulfilled, the law the prophets, all's done. He's telling them instructions, wait for the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is coming. And then he leads them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. He blessed them. There's a special blessing that takes place in the ascension, a blessing that he gives to His disciples as he's lifted up. He leaves he's leaving them with this blessing. And what does that blessing do? They worship Him. And they return in great joy. And they're continually in the temple, praising God. On this Ascension Sunday, I pray, Lord, that we would receive the blessing of the ascension, that we may continue with great joy and worship in your holy temple.
God has written the ascension in our hearts. It is our homecoming. It is where we're going. So in the days ahead, let us all live then. Let's live as the people of Ascension Anglican. Let's live with ascension in our hearts, that the world may see and come to know Jesus as the exalted, ascended, Lord of Glory seated at the right hand of the Father. Until that day when we also make our own ascension and join him there. Until that day, let us live in the final blessing of the ascension. Amen.
Let's pray. Lord, we pray and ask for the blessing of The ascension to be upon us today that that blessing would give grace and mercy and cause us to be lifted up, lifted up above the fray, lifted up above our own sins, our own guilt, shame, the things that hold the things that try to drag us down, Lord, that they will be cut off and we would receive this blessing. The Lord bless you on this Ascension Day, this Ascension Sunday. Amen.