Text: Acts 1:1-11 (2 Kings 2:5-15, Mark 16:14-20)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Jesus has a lot of surprises.
After teaching the disciples for three years about His kingdom, after performing miracles and changing the world, He submits to death on a cross. And then, He surprises them by rising from the dead. He surprises them by appearing to them for 40 days, continuing His ministry of teaching them. And then, on that Thursday six weeks and four days after that first Easter, Jesus surprises the disciples again: by ascending into Heaven, at the right hand of the Father, disappearing into the sky.
But He also surprised them by a promise before He ascended on high, in a similar manner as did the prophet Elijah, blessing the disciples, like Elijah did to Elisha: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Great surprises indeed! The world has never been the same since!
For the apostles – that is, the ones whom Jesus sent in His name, ordained under His authority, called by the Holy Spirit – preached the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, and did so as our Lord said, in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth – even as preachers are today sent far and near with this self-same good news of the cross, of redemption, and of the reality, dear friends, that your sins are forgiven, and that you have been baptized into Christ, and that you are called by the law to repent, and that you are graced with the Gospel unto the certain promise of the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”!
These eleven apostles were transformed from cowering sheep into bold shepherds – because of the Spirit that animated them, and by the Gospel that motivated them. They were empowered by the same Lord Jesus Christ who continued to appear to them under the forms of bread and wine, even as He continues to come to us bodily today in this same Holy Supper, dear friends.
Indeed, Jesus is full of surprises!
On that Thursday, our Lord went up out of their sight, but He did not abandon them. No indeed! He continued to teach them through the Word. He continued to forgive them through Absolution. He continued to comfort them in their Baptism. He continued to forgive and fortify them in the Eucharist. Our Lord had promised them, and us: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
And so He is!
But being ascended, the disciples – and that title includes us, dear brothers and sisters – could not simply sit idle and depend on our Lord to put His hand to the plow. By ascending to the Father, the Lord has delegated the management of the kingdom to us, to the church. He has given the pastors of the church the authority to forgive sins, to preach the Gospel, and to administer the sacraments. And like a baby bird getting nudged out of the nest, the once-cowering disciples were to take up their crosses, spread their wings, and become courageous martyrs, witnesses of our Lord, indeed, in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.
Our Lord had told them: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
But He doesn’t just tell the church to do these things alone. He doesn’t leave them powerless. For He says: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Dear brothers and sisters, though we in the church appear weak – subject to tyrants and mullahs and dictators and bullies and Supreme Court justices – in Christ, we are strong. In the Spirit, we are bold. In the Word and Sacraments, we are redeemed and live forever. We exorcise demons, we preach in languages that didn’t even exist when our Lord ascended, we continue to strive against the evil serpent that beguiled Eve and intimidated Adam, we handle the deadliest poison this world and its prince have to offer, and yet we live. We preach a Gospel that forgives sins and gives immortality to the mortal. And through it all, our Lord is still working: working through His church, working through His ministers, working through His Word, working through His sacraments.
Yes indeed, Jesus never ceases to amaze and surprise!
And yet, it seems at times like we have been abandoned. We cannot place our fingers in the hole of the nails as did St. Thomas. We can’t recline next to Him at table like St. John. We cannot hear Him call out our name like St. Mary. Nor do we see Him bodily ascend as did the Men of Galilee.
But He does not abandon us, dear friends. He is here with us, in body and in Word. He is here with us even in His lifeblood, which was poured out for us, and which is given to us, to restore our life and bolster our faith. In fact, dear friends, it is we who abandon Him in our constant sinning: when we find something to do other than to receive Him in the Sacrament at the Divine Service; when we spent time with the television or radio instead of studying His Word; when we pursue a life of entertainment in place of a life of prayer. We must repent, dear friends! Our Lord is calling us to a better way, and He doesn’t leave us or forsake us! He will be here, in space and time, where we dwell, here for us in Word and Sacrament, until He returns in glory.
For Jesus is not yet done with the surprises!
The angel testified: “Man of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw Him go into heaven.”
Jesus will surprise us with His coming again “with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom has no end.”
Hear, O brothers and sisters! Hear the Word of the Lord, the Good News that Jesus has atoned for your sins! Hear the good news that you have been baptized into His name! Hear His call to repent, and His declaration of absolution! Our blessed Lord continues to give Himself to you, in His body and blood and in His Word, unto forgiveness, life, and salvation, even as we await His coming again in glory.
Jesus continues to surprise His beloved people, with peace and forgiveness and joy and renewal and life – now and even unto eternity! Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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