In which I attempt to explain exactly what we should be doing while we wait for our Lord to return. After the jump.
This past Thursday was ascension day. The disciples watched as Jesus was taken up form them into heaven, and was hidden by a cloud. A promise was given to the disciples: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Jesus has not gone, but has taken up his place at the right hand of the Father. He is now given the honor and glory and power and might that are his due. The one who was crucified has been enthroned, where he lives forever. He has been placed above all things: angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. He now is present here, where two or three are gathered together in his name. He comes through the washing of water and the word to bring salvation to the little children. He speaks through his ministers to bring forgiveness. He comes in his body and blood. Because he is not stuck in heaven, but reigns from a position of power and glory that makes his presence even more real than it could have been when he walked the earth with the disciples.
And so, today, we hear his words of encouragement. And what words do we hear for the post-ascension pep-talk? “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering service to God.” That’s not a very encouraging bit of news. Once again, it seems Jesus doesn’t understand how power works in this world. The powerful get their way. They get to have it easy. Their life is filled with comfort. Put out of the synagogue? Killed as a service to god? It’s like Jesus is saying, “You will have no power at all. You will be at the whims of the world. But doesn’t he have the power and glory and might? Where is that? He sits at the right hand of the Father. That should be good for something, shouldn’t it? I suppose we really shouldn’t expect too much from a man who thought that being crucified was his “hour of glory”.
It turns out that the world misunderstands power and glory. And that we don’t get it either. Power and glory can be seen on the cross, because there you see what love drove Jesus to do. You see what power there is in God sacrificing his son for you. In Jesus giving his body and blood into death for you. For that is true power – the power to forgive sins. The power to undo death. That’s a power the world can never have. Researchers try. They make new drugs, new procedures, that doctors prescribe to their dying patients. But sinful bodies just don’t hold up forever. And there is no way to change that.
Except that Jesus takes the sin away. He gives a new and glorified body. Now that’s power. When you have the promise that this world isn’t all there is, that will change things. That will make a difference. Because now the world can’t really promise or threaten anything. The promises don’t last, and the threats can’t last. The Lord gives new life. A life that begins in Holy Baptism, and finds it fulfillment in the world to come. This world is a mere shadow. Jesus understands power. He knows that this world seems powerful. There are powers in this world. But those powers are not all that significant in the long run. There are names that make men fear. Nero, Napoleon, Hitler. Those men are all dead. They have no more power. Once upon a time they ruled the world. Now, they have nothing. They are nothing.
Jesus has power that never ends. He died two thousand years ago. He still reigns. He will reign forever. The church has seen empires come and go. They don’t last. But the word of God is still here. It still does what God sends it to do: Make sinners into saints. Save the condemned from their condemnation. Bring little children into the arms of Jesus.
And now, we are given the same glory and power that Jesus was given. The glory that put the apostles out of the synagogue. That led Jesus to his death. That led the apostles to their death. We follow where he has gone. Peter writes about this:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
Rejoice that you are counted worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus. It’s not the standard pep talk. But then, Jesus doesn’t offer the standard worldly things that we have come to think of as important. He gives a life beyond this world. Not just a life after this world. Your life in Christ has begun. You are his child through that water. You are given life in him. A life that no longer needs to go after the fleeting glory and power that the world offer. But a life that goes after true glory, true power. And what is that? Again Peter writes:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another
The glory of Jesus is seen in you, as you love and serve. Love covers a multitude of sins. Just as Christ loves you, and so covers your sins with his own blood, so you can now love those around you, and forgive their faults, covering them with your love. When God blesses you, you have an opportunity to serve others with that gift. You can show the same love and mercy to others that Jesus showed to you. That is the Christian life. A life of receiving mercy from God, and giving mercy to others. A life of having been served by the Son of God, and so now serving others. A life that is not built on the quest for money and power, but a life that lives itself out in the spirit of God. A life that knows the sin will never be gone in this world, and so clings every day even more tightly to Jesus. Because he is the one who forgives your sins. A life that knows that Jesus gives opportunities fro you to help and show love to others, and so does that, as much as you can. Receiving forgiveness, giving love and mercy to others. That is life in Christ. It is a life of true glory and power. Even though the world will never see it. The disciples didn’t get to see Jesus enthroned. For now, we walk by faith. But when he returns, then all will be revealed. The pomp and glory of this world will be shown to be a fraud. Every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus, and those whom he has called out of this darkness into his wonderful light will be taken to be with him. Grant this Lord, unto us all.