Ascension Sermon, 2017

The Ascension of Our Lord, 2017
Mark 16:14-20
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The sermon tonight is intentionally brief and simple.

The topic is not.

How—on what basis—can we say that the bread and wine that we eat and drink in the Sacrament of the Altar is Jesus’ body and blood?

The simplest and best answer is: “Because Jesus said so.” And, the Ascension gives us another opportunity to see and understand the how behind our understanding of Jesus’ authority, enthronement, and presence with us.

First, Jesus says it.

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take. Eat. This is my Body, given for you. This do in remembrance of me.” In the same way also, He took the cup, after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it. All of you. This cup is the new testament, in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

And, of course, thus says the Lord through St. Paul: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

In the Sacrament of the Altar, the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

St. Paul says so.

Jesus says so.

Thus says the Lord.

The Ascension provides us an opportunity to understand this through another point of view.

The Ascension is another answer to how God does this. Specifically, in our confession of the Ascension of Jesus, we confess how Jesus, His body, can be anywhere at any given time.

Have you ever considered that?

When we gather for the Lord’s Supper…when we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood for our forgiveness, Jesus is present according to His human nature, in the bread and wine that we eat and drink.

If, at another church, at exactly the same time, another pastor and another congregation receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, Jesus, according to His human nature, is in two places at the same time.

Multiply that out by the thousands of congregations who receive the Sacrament, and Jesus is a busy guy.

Be careful of how other Christians approach this subject.

Calvinism teaches that this is impossible. They explain away the Bible’s words by saying something along the lines of “Is doesn’t mean is,” “The finite (bread and wine) is not capable of the infinite (body and blood of Jesus).”

They understand communion spiritually. They participate with the body and blood of Jesus spiritually. By faith. They remain down here but spiritually go up there. And “is” doesn’t mean “is.”

Because God is in heaven. And no one can be in two places at once.

Such philosophical arguments demonstrate the foolishness of man and a reluctance to believe the Word.

The Ascension helps us understand things the right way.

We confess the Ascension of Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed this way: And [I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead” (Apostles’ Creed, Article 2).

The gospel reading tonight said it this way: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).

If you understand the right hand of God to be a single location, it seems like Jesus is up there—and not down here.

But how else do the Scriptures speak?

In Matthew, thus says our Lord Christ: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

St. Paul writes that he desires us to know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe. He writes that the Father was at work in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavenly places. Then, St. Paul writes, “[God the Father] put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (cf. Ephesians 1:15-22).

So, very clearly, Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father.

But we also have Jesus’ words: I am with you always.

And St. Paul clears it all up: Jesus fills all.

So the right hand of God is not a single location.

Just as the Godfather’s right hand man may stand to his left, Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father means that He holds power and authority given from God—not that He’s actually sitting down next to God.

After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, sitting at the right and of God the Father, Jesus—according to His human nature—is present in an incomprehensible way. “He neither occupies nor vacates space, but penetrates every creature, wherever He wills” (FC SD VIII 100). That’s part of how our Lutheran Confessions speak.

St. Paul says that this way: He, Jesus,  fills all.

This is how we understand and explain Jesus’ body and blood being in thousands if not several places at once.

After the Ascension, God’s omnipotence and omnipresence and omniscience, are communicated completely to the human nature of Christ.

He fills all things—He is present everywhere—because He is God.

He’s always been God, but now He’s holding nothing back.

Prior to His resurrection, Jesus had to suffer, had to endure temptation and even death. After the Incarnation, up to and including His descent into hell, Jesus is humiliated.

After His resurrection, Jesus is humiliated no longer. And after His ascension, He fills all things.

Because the Ascension is talking about Jesus’ enthronement. His authority. The exercising of His eternal power and the ever-closer Last Day, when Jesus, in His power, will return to judge the quick and the dead.

Between that day and this one, we confess that Jesus fills all things—that He sits at the right hand of the Father.

But there’s limited comfort in that.

Knowing that an all-powerful, sin-hating judge is waiting for His day, doesn’t necessarily comfort us. Hurricanes and earthquakes and tornadoes and car crashes and sick children don’t comfort us.

We confess that Jesus is everywhere—He fills all things—but there are still some things that don’t bring us comfort.

Knowing that would be the case, Jesus gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink for the forgiveness of our sins.

You never have to wonder what God is doing when you come to church, because not only does He promise to be here with you—but He promises to be here with you for your benefit, for the forgiveness of your sins.

The Ascension makes it possible for Jesus to be everywhere at once. He sits down at the right hand of the Father, and He fills all things.

Every Christian, then, can rejoice to receive the body and blood of Christ. It’s not a reenactment. It’s not a play.

It is what Jesus says it is, and He says it’s His body and blood. He says that it’s given and shed for our forgiveness.

He promises to be with us always. And He bids us to eat and to drink.

Here—tonight—we rejoice that God is not only with us always—but with us always—for our benefit—for the forgiveness of our sins—to life everlasting.

How—on what basis—can we say that the bread and wine that we eat and drink in the Sacrament of the Altar is Jesus’ body and blood?

Because Jesus—according to His human nature, His body and blood—is present everywhere.

And He is present here, in the Sacrament, for the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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