By His Incarnation, our Lord has graciously come down from heaven to make His dwelling here on earth with men. He has come to visit us in peace and to bestow His Spirit and His Life upon us. He has come to be with us here, in order to take us with Himself to His Father in heaven. That is the special grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we celebrate with great joy on this festival day.
It is a kind of homecoming. A homecoming for Jesus, but so also a homecoming for you. As He returns to the Father in heaven, whence He came, He takes you with Him. And you ascend into heaven with your Lord Jesus, not simply as a visitor or a guest, but as a beloved child of God at home with your Father. That is why Jesus has come. He has become like you in all things, so that you may be like Him; so that everything which belongs to Him should be yours by His grace.
He has taken not only your flesh and blood, but also your sin and death upon Himself. He has borne your sin, and He has suffered your death, so that, by His sacrifice, and by His Resurrection from the dead, you should be set free from the bondage of sin and the fear of death, and raised up with Him to life everlasting. For indeed, His Life is now your life. You are a son of God in Christ.
He lives and abides with God the Father, also now in and with His human nature, in His own Body of flesh and blood. For that which He took from the Blessed Virgin Mary in His Incarnation, He retains to all eternity. When He ascends to heaven and returns to the Father, it is not simply as the Son of God, but as true Man, your Brother in the flesh. For God’s purpose was that Christ should be the Firstborn of many brothers. And so He is. The Son of God has become like you forever.
It is therefore One like you who ascends to the Father in heaven. It is flesh and blood like yours that now abides in the Holy of Holies made without hands, in the true Inner Sanctum of God; that resides forever in the bosom of the Father. It is your Savior, your Redeemer, your great and merciful High Priest, who ascends to the Father — and you with Him.
His whole body and life, His flesh and His blood, are a priestly intercession for you, and a constant prayer for you. In fact, He Himself is your Prayer, your Incense, and your Intercession, as I also said this past Sunday. He is the Church’s morning and evening Sacrifice of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and He is heard and received, acceptable and pleasing to the Father on your behalf.
In His own Body, with His own holy and precious Blood, as the One who has made Atonement for the sins of the world, who has redeemed the world for God by His sacrificial death upon the Cross, and who has reconciled the world to God in His perfect faith and love — He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Father in heaven. Day and night, while you go about your day, and as you sleep in your bed, the Son of God, your great and merciful High Priest, is praying and interceding for you. And for His sake, in His Name, the Father gives you all good things.
Make no mistake, the fact that Christ now lives in the presence of His Father forever, that He is your Anchor behind the Veil, as the Letter to the Hebrews so beautifully puts it, does not mean that He has gone away and left you here by yourself. The Lord Jesus has not abandoned His Church. He has finished His work of Atonement, that is true. But having finished that good work, once and for all, His priestly work continues in His constant intercession, and so also in His Ministry of the Gospel, in His preaching of forgiveness even to the ends of the earth and to the close of the age.
As surely as Atonement, Redemption, and Reconciliation have been accomplished once for all by His Cross and in His Resurrection, so surely does Absolution continue every day in His Church. For He daily and richly forgives you all your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness. And He whose human lungs were suffocated on the Cross as He died that slow and painful death, now breathes the Spirit of God into His people, into His Church on earth, by the preaching of His Word.
For you are still hindered by your sin, you are still hampered by your mortality. You are still in the midst of tribulation and trial within and without. So the Lord in His love for you continues faithfully to serve you with the Fruits of His Cross, with those Gifts of His Redemption, with all that He has accomplished for you by His Sacrifice.
He has not abandoned you. Far from it! Rather, in His Ascension, He has filled all things with His glorious Body and Life. For He is the Fulness of all things, and He binds together both God and Man, both heaven and earth, in Himself. He is the Head of His Body, the Church, and He ever lives to serve His Body in love, in grace, mercy, and peace.
The Gospel that He preaches, which forgives you all your sins — the Gospel which He preaches and administers, as in your Baptism, so at His Altar — gives you life and salvation. It gives you life with God. It gives you eternal salvation with God, because the Gospel gives you Jesus. It is constantly binding you to Jesus, sewing you together with Him, lashing you to Him, the way a sailor might lash Himself to the mast on a boat in the midst of a great storm.
So it is that, as the storms of the world rage around you, you are not thrown overboard, and you are not lost, but you remain with Christ, who binds you to Himself, to His Cross and Resurrection. He did it in your Baptism, in which you were crucified, dead, and buried with Him, and then raised with Him, united with Him, tied together with Him, bearing His Name, anointed with His Spirit, a son of His Father, a daughter or son of God in Christ.
And He does it so profoundly, so intimately, so graciously and tenderly, in His Holy Supper. For He takes His Body and His Blood — the very Body and Blood that were sacrificed for you upon the Cross, the Body and Blood that rested in the tomb for you, the Body and Blood that have risen and ascended — and with that priestly Meat and Drink He feeds and nourishes you in both body and soul. How much more closely could He possibly bind Himself to you? And how more tightly could He bind you to Him?
And as the Gospel thus binds you to Christ, He also binds you to His God and Father in heaven. So that, where He is, you are also. As He lives in the glorious presence of God, seated at the Right Hand of His Father, and as He lives and abides in that Holy of Holies made without hands, your Anchor behind the Veil, you also live there with Him. Doesn’t St. Paul say that very thing, that you have died with Christ in your Holy Baptism, and that your life is hidden with Christ in God?
Consider that, and take it to heart. You are bound together with Christ as a member of His Body. And you are a son of His Father, in whose home you dwell forever. That is how sure and certain your life is. Even in the midst of frailty and weakness. Even though you daily sin much in your thoughts, words, and deeds, and for your sins you deserve nothing but punishment. And though you are mortal and your body grows weak and weary and old and sick and dies. And though you are in the midst of tribulation, just as Jesus forewarned. Though you bear the Cross, yet your life with God is sure and certain, firmly and forever established in Christ. Absolutely. Unshakably. Because it is in Christ. And all the weakness, all the sin and all the death, all the hurt and sadness that you find in yourself, does not undo what is true for you in Christ.
You know that it is true in Him, and you know that it is for you, by the Gospel that is preached to you. You know it from the Words of Christ Himself, especially as He gives you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink. This, He says, is for you. And with these Words He tenderly invites your heart to believe, to trust, to know for certain, that in Him your life is permanently established and shall not be shaken nor taken from you.
In that confidence and faith, your life in Christ moves in two different directions. Just like His.
Here’s what I mean. On the one hand, the Lord Jesus Christ has gone up to His God and Father. By His lifting up in death upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has made Atonement, accomplished Redemption, and reconciled the world to God. And now He lives to intercede for you before the Father in heaven. So there is this upward movement of Christ, His homecoming, in which He takes you with Him. And yet, there is also the movement of Christ to His Church and into all the world, whereby He goes out with the Gospel into all of creation, and gives good gifts, and gives Himself, and preaches forgiveness. But this isn’t about geography or space travel. It is about the One who fills the heavens and the earth, who is always interceding as your Priest before God, and always preaching to you as the great Apostle of the faith.
And in much the same way, your life also moves in two different directions. As you are in Christ Jesus, by faith, and through the Holy Spirit, you also ascend to the Father in heaven. Your prayers rise to Him as incense. You worship Him. Your heart, mind, and spirit, your head and your hands are lifted up to Him in Christ Jesus. Your life is hidden with Christ in God. So there is also this upward movement in you, in your body and soul, in your thoughts, words, and actions.
At the same time, there is an outward and downward movement to your life, as you go out to your neighbor, and as you kneel down in humility to serve your neighbor, to serve the little ones, to serve the weak, the helpless, and the despised.
So, then, as you are ascending with Christ before God, so are you also descending with Christ in love. And you have the courage to do that, and the strength and the confidence to do that; and you have the freedom to do that, come what may, because your life is hidden with Christ in God.
He has rescued you in Himself, and He has brought you to God in Himself, not in order to take you away from your spouse and your children, your parents and family and friends; not to take you away from your neighbor, but so that, in Him, you are now able to serve the neighbors that He has put around you with the very life and love of Christ. To forgive, as you are forgiven. To care for your neighbor in humility and peace. You have the confidence to live and love like that, because it doesn’t matter how people receive you. It doesn’t matter if people even notice, whether they say thank you, or whether in fact they actually despise you for your faith and love. Even if the whole world hates you, just as it hates Christ, nevertheless, your life remains secure and steadfast in Him.
You have this wonderful freedom of faith in the Gospel, this wonderful strength of your life in Christ, so that you can dare to do great things. Great big things, or great little things. You can dare to do important good works for your neighbor. You can apply yourself to the jobs and to the tasks that God has given. You can do your work with confidence that it actually means something. For you go about your job as one who lives before the Father in heaven in Christ Jesus.
And not only are you able to work and to serve in love, to forgive, and to receive persecution, and to turn the other cheek, to forgive those who trespass against you. But you are also free to receive and to use, to enjoy, and to savor the good things that God gives you in Christ even here on earth. For all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified by the Cross and Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. All things are made brand new in Him. And your Father gives you good gifts because He loves you. You can use those good gifts to serve your neighbor, to care for your neighbor, to bring joy and gladness to your neighbor. But you also are given joy and gladness in those good things that your Father gives you in Christ Jesus, your Savior. As you receive them and use them, as you do your job, as you suffer patiently the Cross, so do you also abide with Christ in God.
You abide in the gracious and glorious presence of your God and Father. As you live by faith in the Body of Christ, in His Church and in His Sacrament, you are continually in the Temple praising God. Because you are in Christ. Whether you are near or far, whether you are home or away, whether you are working or playing, sleeping, or reading, or whatever you may be doing, you are in Christ. And Christ resides in the Holy City, New Jerusalem.
He is the Temple and the Light of that great City, in heaven and on earth, even as His flesh and blood are the Tabernacle of God among men. He’s not up there, somewhere, over the rainbow, in the sky by and by, but right here, right now, for you, and for the many.
He is here with you in His Church on earth, breathing His life-giving Holy Spirit into you by the preaching of His Gospel, and feeding your body and soul with His Body and Blood. And the Father is with you in Him, in Christ His Son. And you are with the Father.
Indeed, you are a fragrant aroma, a sweet-smelling incense to your Father. You arise and ascend into His nostrils, and He is pleased and delighted with you because you smell like Jesus.
Your God and Father in heaven loves you and rejoices over you. And you know how dear you are to Him by the Resurrection that we continue to celebrate throughout these great Fifty Days of Easter. You know His heart and mind toward you, His gracious good pleasure in you, and the life that is yours in Him, in the Ascension of His Son. Because the Resurrection of Christ Jesus and the Ascension of Christ Jesus are your Resurrection and Ascension in Him. They are yours by your Baptism into Him. They are yours by His Body and Blood, which He puts into you, into your body as a down payment on your resurrection. For He who binds together heaven and earth and God and Man, also binds you to Himself, and in Himself He binds you to your God and Father.
You are beloved of God. You are in and with Christ. You are anointed by the Holy Spirit. And here you stand in the presence of God. Not for death, but for life everlasting in body and soul.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.