May 5, 2015 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are two things of utmost important at the Ascension. First, Christ ascended to His Father’s right hand as a Human being and not simply as God. Once He took the Flesh of Mary, He kept it. Thus He opened heaven for humans: bodies and souls. Secondly, Christ has removed His familiar and visible presence from us but has still promised to be with us always. The apostles in Acts are rebuked for gawking into heaven after Christ. Instead they should look by faith where He has promised to be: in His Word and in the Sacraments.
First: Christ is still a human being. When He became a human in Mary’s virginal womb He denied Himself so that He did not always or fully use His Divine rights and attributes as a Man. He was true God still but He did not exercise His powers. If He had, then He could not have been killed and He came to suffer in our place, to keep the Law for us, and then to be killed as a Sacrifice for our sins. So He denied Himself as a Man.
When it was complete, He rested His Body in the tomb, as a Man. His soul went to Abraham’s bosom for He died as a Christian. The resurrection was the coming back together of His human Body and Soul. Since it was finished, He no longer denied Himself. He passed through the rock and the locked doors in His human body. His appearance was changed in such a way that although the scars left by the cross remained, He was not easily identified by sight alone. The disciples need faith to know that it was Him, that He was risen from the dead, and had come in peace.
For forty days He was among the disciples in this exalted state. He was visible and physical when He wanted to be. He ate fish with them. But He also rebuked Mary Magdalene not to seize Him.
Then, forty days after the Resurrection, He visibly ascended to His Father’s right hand to receive His place in the Kingdom and rule by His mercy. He ascended as a Man, a human, and thus He paved the way for us not only out of Hell but into heaven. He opened the pearly gets that they might let us, humans redeemed by Christ, in. He is there now, as a Man, in His body and soul inherited from Mary, with scars on His wrists and feet and side.
He has removed His visible presence. He is not among us as He was among the disciples before the crucifixion. He does not deny Himself at all but fully and always uses all of His Divine rights and attributes as a Man. Yet He has promised to be among us, to be with us always to the end of the age.
He is present now with us, as a Man, not simply according to His Divine omnipresence, but He is amongst us, with us and for us, as a Man, according to His promised sacramental presence. The most important bit of His presence is His bodily presence in the Holy Communion. This He reveals to St. Paul, who records it for us in 1 Corinthians, after the Ascension. Even though He has removed His visible presence, in His exalted state His human nature is not limited. As a Man, He uses His Divine rights and attributes and can be physically present in more place than one.
This, of course, is a mystery. We do not comprehend it. We confess it and believe it. It should, however, be no more of a stumbling block to reason and logic than the Incarnation itself. If we, by faith, can worship the Babe in Mary’s arms as the uncreated, eternal Creator of all things, contained somehow there, then we should not balk to take Christ as His Word and confess and believe that He gives His actual, risen Body and Blood for us to eat and drink in the Supper for the forgiveness of sins. This we believe according to the accomplished sacrifice of the cross and Christ’s clear word. We partake not of a simply memorial meal, but we receive the fruit of the cross, the forgiveness of sins, the very Body of Jesus and are joined to Him forever.
There is a kind of sacramental presence also in Holy Baptism, in the Word of God, in the Absolution, and in the Church – not in the bodily sense of the Sacrament of the Altar. The Sacrament of the Altar is a unique gift. There Christ gives us and join us to His risen Body, His Flesh and Blood, His soul and divinity.
Yet there is also a presence of Christ in the water of Holy Baptism according to His command and promise. He Himself is the baptizer and He lays His own name upon the baptized, bestowing His Holy Spirit, reconciling them to His Father, and taking up residence in their hearts. Not in a bodily sense, but in a real and enduring way and that through the physicality of the water combined with God’s Holy Name and promise.
There is similar presence in the Holy Absolution and in the Word. For Christ says: “He who hears you, hears Me.” Christ speaks to His sheep – not in their silent thoughts and imaginations but in the external Word. It comes to them and vibrates their ear drums or shines into their eyes or on their fingertips and enters into their hearts for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. The Lord’s sheep hear His voice and know Him and He comes to them there.
So also there is a presences in the gathered saints, for they are gathered by Christ and He says: “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, I am with them.” He is with us, speaking, absolving, and re-claiming us. He is with us, washing and feeding us. He is risen and ascended, but He is not gone. Don’t gawk into heaven but come where He promises to be. Look at bread and wine, water and words: and see Christ. Then look to your left and your right and see Him likewise in your neighbor. He is with you.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.