Sermon for the Ascension of our Lord – May 29, 2022

Acts 1-11, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the end of just about any of the Superman movies or comic books or TV shows, after Superman has saved the day, rescuing the world from another one of Lex Luthor’s sinister plots, Superman usually says something like, “Well, my work here is done,” and then he flies up into the sky, disappearing into the clouds above.

It might be easy to think of the ascension of Jesus in this way. After all, Jesus has finished his saving work. He has rescued the world from sin, death, and the devil. And now he does indeed go up into the heavens, disappearing into a cloud as the disciples watch from below.

But there are some key differences. First and foremost, Superman is, of course, a fictional character, while Jesus really, truly walked the earth and really, truly ascended! Secondly, while the fictional Superman flies away and is gone, leaving behind the people he has saved, the real Jesus ascends in order to be more powerfully present with us than ever! Jesus’ ascension isn’t about him leaving the world, it is about him going up to the Father in order to be present in the world in a new way. Jesus’ ascension is not a departure from the earth so much as it his elevation above all things. It is his return to the God from which he came, the God who fills all in all. It is his exaltation as our eternal and ever-present Lord and savior, who rules from on high.

St. Luke does double duty today telling us the story of the ascension. He wrote both the Gospel of Luke, of course, and then, later, the book of Acts, and there is some overlap in the two books. He writes of the ascension in each book, kind of like how your favorite TV series will sometimes pick up where it left off in the previous episode. We hear both accounts in our lectionary readings today as we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord.

But whereas Luke gives us the logistics, the details, the narrative of the ascension, in our epistle reading for today, St. Paul gives us the meaning of the ascension. In the reading from Ephesians, the Apostle writes that “God raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.”

Paul is clearly referencing the ascension as he talks about Jesus being at the right hand of God in the heavenly places, but the language Paul uses is not so much about location as it is about status and authority. It is figurative language. No offense to left-handed people, but for most people the right hand is the stronger hand, the dominant hand, the hand you use to get things done. For Jesus to be at God’s right hand is for him to be given all the power and authority of God himself, so as to accomplish God’s will.

Paul goes on to describe Jesus as being “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” This too isn’t so much about location as it is about power and authority. Jesus ranks higher than any rule or authority or power or dominion here on earth. He is above all the forces currently at work in our world. His power is higher than any of them. This is what the ascension means, and it is good news!

Sometimes it seems like the powers of sin, death, and the devil are the ones in charge. Sometimes the dark powers loose in our world and in people’s lives seem to have a stronger hand than Paul suggests here.

This past week I spent time talking with a couple whose newborn baby has been having some scary medical complications. There’s a power loose that is gripping both this precious newborn and her parents, holding them back from going home and joyfully starting their life together.

I’ve also spent time this past week with new widows, and with someone whose mother has just entered hospice, and the grief loose in their lives is a power unto itself.

Like you, I been horrified by what happened in Uvalde this past week. We can talk about common sense gun laws and mental health access and school safety and family breakdown and our violent and deeply unwell culture. We should be talking about all those things. But none of them, even taken collectively, can entirely account for the utter horror of what happened in that fourth-grade classroom. There was a power loose there too, and it was the power of evil.

Especially when something as horrible as that happens, it can seem like these powers have the upper hand. It can seem like they have dominion.

But the good news of the ascension is that Christ Jesus is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” It can be hard to see this through our rage and our tears, but it is true. Jesus Christ is far above all the powers loose in this world and in our lives. He is far above all the things that break our hearts, and all the things that scare us to death. He outranks and overpowers and overcomes them all.

I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in the peace that prayer brings to terrified new parents. I’ve seen it in the comfort that Word and Sacrament bring to those grieving for loved ones. And though it is especially hard to see at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, even in the midst of all the sorrow and anger, there is hope. For we trust that the same Lord Jesus who ascended with holes still in his hands from the violent death he endured has gathered those 21 precious souls to himself

I haven’t watched “The Simpsons” in years, but back when it was funny there was an episode where Homer Simpson was in grave danger. He fell to his knees and folded his hands and said, “I’m not normally a praying man, but if you’re up there, please, save me Superman!”

Dear friends, we have someone far greater than Superman to call upon. And he is not out there, somewhere far away, needing to be summoned. Our ascended and exalted Lord Jesus is already close to you. As St. Paul says, he fills all in all. He sits at God’s right hand to exercise God’s power in your life through the Holy Spirit, so that you would know his presence. He exercises his rule through the church, of which he is the head. He is our eternal and ever-present Lord and savior, who is powerfully present with us – in our hearts, in our hands, on our tongues, in our brothers and sister in Christ who form his body in the world. He is far above all those other powers that seem so strong. He is here, just as he promised, to embrace you, to forgive you, to heal you, to love you, to gather you to himself in a relationship that begins now and continues forever.

One day he will come again in glory to restore this broken world once and for all. But make no mistake about it, he hasn’t left us alone in the meantime. And so, with the disciples after his ascension, we worship him with joy.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church