Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ascension Day

Ascension Day
From a Sermon given by Bo Giertz in Ljushot and Roasjö in 1954
(what follows aims to be a rough translation/paraphrase)
Luke 24:49-53 (ESV)
And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

[50] Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. [51] While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. [52] And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, [53] and were continually in the temple blessing God.

“If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139:8-10 (ESV) What the Psalmist says here about the hand of God is inescapable. The psalmist thoughts are more about responsibility before his all seeing eye. But a Christian can read this in a new way: If I take the wings of the morning to be carried far behind the Iron Curtain, If I go to the South Seas Coral Islands, even there would my Saviors hand embrace me.
Christ has gone to the Father- but not to leave us, but to be with us. His own explanation of the Ascension indicates this. “ While he blessed them, he left them.” The last thing they saw of him was his arms uplifted in blessing. They were left under these hands. The would live under them and not only them, but all who come to faith.

Under the Blessing Hands of Jesus
How does one live there? Four lessons from the text.
1. He who has the promise of the Spirit and remains there is clothed with power.
So it was with the disciples. They were alone but not alone. They had received a promise and had something to wait for. For this reason they could remain calm in the city. The father would send what he promised. He would put his hand on them and help them and equip them with power from on high.
So it is with us. Even you have received a promise. Even you have something to expect, because you live under the blessing hands of Jesus. They were stretched over you in baptism. You were taken into his hands. You have been blessed and are not left along, but live under these hands.
And now it means to remain there and wait for the fulfillment of his promise, that you shall understand all, that the truth shall make you free, that you shall be a true Christian, and finally be blessed.
Have you left and not remained in God’s Church? They you are not clothed with power from on high, not for certain, and not a living Christian. You notice this yourself. But he who has remained, after confirmation—or returned again and stays, he has experienced this. At first it doesn’t feel like power, but like weakness, and brokenness or impotence. But this is the Spirits word, yes this. One day power from on high will also come-certainty concerning the forgiveness of sins, that it is unthinkable to live without God. And you can say. “Lord you know that I love you.” Then one lives under the blessing hands of Jesus-always as in baptism- an old sinner but a still faithful child. He shall complete his work.

2. There one can always lift his eyes to heaven in prayer.
The disciples did this. “And they worshiped him” (Swedish says they fell down and worshiped him)This they had not done before. Now they knew that he was God’s Son, “Sitting at the right hand of God the Father almighty”, up where your prayer can always reach, whoever prays to him. Always under his blessing hands, up there under his caring eye. There one can always dare to lift his eyes.
So it is for us. You always had the same admonition. Even you have been under these blessing hands in baptism, raised over you as a heavenly sign. Up there is your brother and your intercessor, your friend and confident. You can always life your eyes there. Have you stopped? Thery are many who quit, usually because they are ashamed. They have been sinful. They foolishly try to escape. Even if I do not look up in prayer, so he still looks down with his all seeing eye. Nothing is hidden. This is true even if I don’t talk about it. It remains unforgiven. It gets stacked up on my pile of guilt. But it is neither hidden nor obliterated.
But in the moment you no longer hide, nor cover up, then he can atone (cover up). His righteousness white blanket is spread by his hands of blessing over all of your life. Therefore one shall look up in prayer, even when one is ashamed. Fear him right. Then you will be afraid to hide, afraid to flee, but not afraid to go to him with your sins. He takes them in his hand of blessings and blots them all out.
3. Then one can return to his day with great joy.
So it was with the disciples. “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” They returned to Jerusalem—to the cruel people, to those who stone and crucify, to the hate filled people, to the bitter and gray daily routine. How could they? They knew that he held his hands of blessing even over the harshest of days. They knew that he was with them every day.
So it is for us. Each and every one of us has his daily routine to return to—from prayer, from church, from the Lord’s Supper. It is often a hard routine. It can be stressful with too much to do, long and drawn out with monotones work. Maybe even with hardships with those you are close to, with worries and cares with those who have long been sick. Maybe with economical burdens or with anxiety concerning your children. Many go to this routine tired, worn out, and heavy laden. It can feel like a burden that one unwillingly carries.
It does not need to be so. It is not so under Christ’s hands of blessing. The disciples “returned with great joy. Why? He wants this. He stretches out his hands to bless this work. God wants to be close and help with this work-with the milk machine in the cowshed, or the making of candy at the snicker’s factory, or a mom who sits and mends a boy’s shorts. These are certainly a timely blessing, but Jesus thinks about the whole person. He wants it. But he sees it also. He rejoices in it, and blesses you while you do it. Even in a hard and pressing job, one is constantly carried back to this; My Lord goes with, he understands, he uses me. It is lovely to have Jesus’ hands of blessing over one’s place of work.

4. There one can hold fast to the church and Divine Service.
So it was with the disciples. “and they were continually in the temple praising God.” It was natural for them. There Jesus had instructed, there he had said that his Father lived. There was heard the Word and the songs of praise. Precisely because they lived under Jesus’s hands of blessing, they loved the prophet’s writings which witnessed to him, the psalms that he had song, the Divine Service that he so often celebrated with them.
And so it is with us too. It is hard to hold fast to the church with all that chips away at our time. There are many other things that happen on Sunday…. And others that thoughtlessly draw people away. It is so easy for Christianity to be depreciated. Jesus is so far way. Is your Christianity depreciated? It should not be. Jesus’ hands of blessing are spread over you so that you then would always be consecrated and praise God.
On Sunday Morning you should place yourself under these hands of blessing. If you cannot come, try to have a true worship at home with collection of sermons. Pray for him to bless it. If you can come, then one shall gather and not squander the opportunity. When you are on your way to church, it is a way to place yourself under Jesus’s hands of blessing. Even at the Lord’s Supper may you be placed under his hands of blessing. Fear not disgrace. The disciples of Jesus do not need to fear the accusations of his sin. It is good to have lived under Jesus’s hands of blessing and to die blessed. One such life remains a blessing.
Do you feel hopelessly far away? Christ knws that you are far away. But his hands are still lifted over you, to bless you. Return again to the Word.
Perhaps you are powerless? Then wait for it in God’s congregations.
Under his hands of blessing? Stand always in his consecration and praise God. Pray for the Spirit’s power to be an apostle among your parishioners.