Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension
Sermon for Ascension Day
May 13th, 2021
"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?"
Have you ever had your hopes dashed?
Your dreams ruined?
That deepest longing of your heart gone unfulfilled?
Things seldom turn out for us exactly as we had imagined, hoped, or desired they would.
Too often we find ourselves facing disappointment and heartbreak because we didn’t get what we thought we wanted, feel we’re owed, or imagine that we need.
I think the disciples felt a little bit like this 40 days after the resurrection.
For 40 days following his resurrection the resurrected Christ has been appearing to the Disciples at various times and in various places.
He appears as he was, but not quite.
He isn’t quite a ghost, but not quite the man as they knew him.
His body still bears the marks of the nails and the wound of the lance, wounds which Thomas the Apostle touches and by which he believes. You can’t touch a ghost.
Jesus appears before the disciples and disappears before the disciples like a spectre, but will then sit and enjoy a meal with them. Ghosts don’t eat.
No, the risen Christ that appears before them is very much Jesus, truly Jesus, in no way diminished from whom he was when he walked alongside them through the Galilean countryside, no less whom he was when he healed the blind, the lame, and the possessed. Yet there is a sense that things are not quite finished, the resurrection is not the end of the story.
And 40 days after his resurrection, today, just as he had told the disciples, he ascends up into heaven before their eyes. Removed from them to sit at the right hand of His father and our Father, enthroned in heaven, home.
The ascension is the homecoming of Jesus, the return of the Son to the Father, the Son who left the Father and came to us in the Incarnation now returns.
But for all his preparation, all his talk to the disciples of what would happen to him, there they stand this night like us when our hopes are dashed – somewhat dumbfounded, disappointed, and perhaps feeling as though their desires and longings have gone unfulfilled.
"While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
What kind of people stand staring up after Jesus but people who are sad to see him go?
Even the angels remark upon it, asking them why they are staring – after all, he told them this would happen and he promised he would return.
I think that in that moment all of the desires of their hearts about their future with Jesus were dashed. After all, they sat in disappointment for three days following his death on the cross, sure as sure can be that he was dead and gone and not coming back. But lo, there he appears to them, resurrected. Their friend. Their teacher.
Imagine if one of those you have loved and lost was suddenly resurrected. Imagine if you had another forty days to spend together with them, talking, eating, just being in their presence. What would that parting be like when they go once again? Painful. Another heart break.
All that Jesus had told them, all of the comfort and surety he had given them is forgotten, overshadowed by the sadness of his ascending, his leaving them again and for good. They stare because they don’t want that time to end.
For us too, I think, our hope can be overshadowed by our sadness.
We can come to church week after week and pray and recite the words that proclaim the hope we have in Jesus’ promises to us – but if we’re honest with ourselves, how often do we really feel hopeful about our eternal salvation? How often do we simply pine for a better life here and now?
The Ascension is a strange festival of the church, hard to pin down exactly what it is all about because I think it is about so much and connects to so much of Jesus’ life and ministry. It takes a second fiddle to Easter and to Christmas. There’s no chocolate on Ascension, no eggs, no bunny, there’s no tree or presents.
But without it, without Jesus’ ascending to the Father we have no vision, no surety of our future.
Because this day is not just about Jesus, the Son’s, homecoming to the Father. It is about our homecoming.
Jesus ascending to the right hand of the Father is a reminder, a promise, and a vision that through Him this is also our destiny as the children of God.
At almost every funeral or burial you will hear the words of John chapter 14, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
These words of comfort Jesus speaks to the disciples are also spoken to us.
He ascends to prepare that place for us in the Father’s house. He ascends to prepare for that day when we will go home to God.
Because, you see, in this world we will always have our hopes dashed.
In this world we will always have our dreams ruined.
In this world the deepest longing of our heart will always go unfulfilled...
...if it is only for this world that we dream, hope, and long.
The Ascension reminds us that our calling is not to this world. The end of all of our hoping, dreaming, longing, and wishing is not here…but in that place where Christ goes to prepare for us.
As St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As he has gone up and revealed to us our destiny and future as his friends, so will he return at the end of time to gather everything up into one, into the fulfillment of all longing.
"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?"