By Mark Buetow
Sometimes I think we treat Jesus’ departure like the death of a loved one. We know they’re with God in heaven but they’re gone from this life and so the best we can hope for is our good memories and a visit to the cemetery once in a while. So it is with Jesus. Christmas, He was born. Good Friday, He died. Easter, He rose. Now Ascension and He’s gone away and since we can’t see Him anymore, it’s like all there is left is to piously think about Him once in a while. It’s as if coming to church is like going to visit the cemetery; we’re there to remember someone who’s not around any more. But that’s wrong! That’s not how it is at all! Listen again to what Mark says, “And so when He had said these things, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out, preaching to all nations, the Lord working with them” (Mark 16:19-20).
So which is it? Is He gone or not? The answer is that Jesus went away but He’s not gone. That’s because “heaven” and the “right hand of the Father” aren’t up there somewhere, far away, past the moon or the solar system or the galaxy. Recall what we heard from the book of Acts. He was taken up and “a cloud received Him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). Jesus isn’t gone. We just can’t see Him with our eyes right now. So if we can’t see Him but He’s not gone, where is He? Well that’s what Mark’s Gospel answered. He’s where His Word is being preached by the men He calls to preach. He’s where His Church is gathered around the Gospel and Sacraments. He’s where Baptism, Absolution, and preaching and teaching of His Word and of course, in His Supper with His true Body and Blood. Jesus hasn’t gone away. He’s just not visible to our eyes, but we see Him with the eyes of faith in sure and certain places–in the Gifts–where we know He is to be found.
And what do those Gifts promise and deliver? They promise that the righteousness Jesus won for us is safe from all our enemies and they deliver the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father and that means the devil can’t touch your righteousness. He can’t take away your being a child of God. He can’t steal your inheritance and rob you of the life to come. Jesus accomplished your salvation when He was pierced for your sins on the Cross of Calvary and when He rose from the dead on Easter. And His Ascension means both that your righteousness is safe with Him and that He will be with you now to give you His forgiveness and life until He comes again. His Ascension is like the victory parade now that He has done His work of defeating sin and death.
And then there is that final promise that He will come again. “Men of Galilee, why are you standing around looking up into heaven. He will come back the same way He went away” (Acts 1:11). That’s telling us to stop looking for Jesus up in the sky. Go to church where He has promised to be. But yet there IS the promise of His coming again. Jesus will one day come back so that we can see Him with our eyes. And on that day, He will raise us up from the dead and give us everlasting life in the new heavens and earth. Then we, too, shall have the eternal and everlasting glory as we reflect the glory of Christ forever. Ascension means Jesus isn’t just in one place anymore but is wherever His Word is declared. That means to you, in church, and wherever else you hear His Word preached, over and over until He comes again. That’s the promise of His being seated at the right hand of the Father, that He is with us always to the very end of the age.
Rev. Mark Buetow is the pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in McHenry, IL.
This article was originally published in May 2014 on the Higher Things website.