We finally come to the feast of the Ascension. There really isn’t much to do. On Christmas we sing carols and light candles. On Palm Sunday we wave palms, On Good Friday we have Tenebrae, on Easter we come early and dress the altar. Today we’re just sort of standing there with the disciples, looking at the cloud. Yup. There he went. Do we really need this day? We’re still here, even though He has gone away.
Ascension Day reminds: You do nothing. There’s no fancy ritual. No preparation by the children. We just gather to hear and receive the Word and promise of God: This Jesus whom you saw go away into heaven will return in the same way you saw him go.
We don’t do anything. The gift has already been given. We hear and learn about the work of God for us. One more festival to go in this liturgical year – Pentecost. We will have covered once again the entire history of salvation. And that history tells us over and over again: It’s Jesus work, not yours. We do nothing to contribute to that salvation. We receive it as gift from him.
But in our sinful state, any time the truth is spoken, Satan is there with his silky smooth snake-oil salesman voice, asking again, “Did God really say…” Well, if the sins are forgiven, you can do whatever you want. You don’t even need to follow the law anymore. You can just go and sin-it-up and ask for forgiveness later.
Saint Paul already dealt with this in the first century. “Should we go on sinning so that grace may abound? By no means. How can we who died to sin live in it any longer.”
That’s the promise of Ascension Day. We have died to sin. We have King David, prophesying about today: You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive: You have received gifts for men; yes, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.
What does it mean that he led captivity captive? We were in captivity to sin death and the devil. Jesus broke the bonds of that captivity, and now sin itself is captive to Jesus death, resurrection and ascension.
It means we are no longer bound under sin. Rather, in Christ, sin is your captive. Sin is not yet dead in this world. We still struggle with sin. But we are not captive to it. It is captive to those of us who have been Baptized into Christ’s precious name and who believe on that name for our salvation. What that means is that we no longer live in our sins. We no longer dwell in them. Whatever sin has you in it’s thrall, Christ’s redemption is greater. Yes! Christ’s work is greater than your sin. And now, you live by the Spirit, and though we are still weak in this world, and stumble, we can, by the word of God and prayer, begin to overcome our sin.
The sinful self wants to distort this teaching. Your sinful flesh wants to either tell you that you are holy, and so if you sin, you have failed in your salvation and all is lost. But it is not your salvation. It never was. Today we hear again the salvation is Christ’s – given freely.
And so the sinful flesh tries the other way – well, if it’s freely given, it is cheap, and I can abuse that freedom of the Gospel, and live according to the ways of the flesh. Also not true. We do not despair of our sins. Neither do we live in them anymore.
Rather, we return again and again to the Holy Church of Christ to hear his word of promise, to receive the gifts he gives of forgiveness, life and salvation. As it says on the cover, what was visible in our savior has passed over into His mysteries.
Jesus is hidden from our eyes. But He is not gone. With the eyes of faith, we see the water poured and know that Jesus is given even to the little children. We see the body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, offered now for you to take eat and take drink, to strengthen you in this true faith unto life everlasting. Amen.