The Ascension of Our Lord 2019
The cross means nothing to me unless it is applied to me. This is a phrase I was taught during my Vicarage, when my supervising Pastor talked about the importance of the Sacraments. This summarizes the purpose of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. They give to you what Jesus accomplished on the cross and in His resurrection. The cross and Jesus’ death on it don’t do you any good unless the benefit of that death is given to you. Once the Sacraments apply it to you, you can look at the crucifixion with joy because you know that it was done for you and that you are here tonight to receive what Jesus won for you in His death.
The last words Martin Luther were, “We are all beggars.” We are not givers; we are not the benefactors. We are receivers; we are beneficiaries. We need. When we remember this, we naturally pray. We realize that we are surrounded by so many and so great dangers, that we cannot free ourselves from evil, that we need what only God can give. Our prayers falter and cease when we are hearers of the Word and not doers, looking at our natural faces in a mirror and forgetting what we are like, that we are beggars, thinking instead that we are givers. So today Jesus reminds us to pray, to ask the Father in Jesus’ name. That’s why this Sunday is named Rogate, from the Latin word that means to ask, request, or petition. Jesus tells us to ask our Father in heaven for His good and gracious gifts, just as earthly children ask their earthly fathers.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says something very interesting to the disciples, something I doubt they believed. He said, “It is to your advantage that I go away.” Of course, in its original context, Jesus spoke those words on Maundy Thursday, not long before He would be betrayed and given into the hands of sinful men. In that context it makes perfect sense to us. It’s imperative that Jesus go away, that He be crucified so He can die and rise again to take away the sin of the world. However, if we think of those words again, in a post-Easter mindset, they don’t make as much sense. “It is to your advantage that I go away.” How in the world is it good that Jesus leaves us? Wouldn’t it be better for Him to stay, always to be here, always to do what He did during His earthly ministry? As Jesus says, when He departs, He will send the “Helper,” that is, the Holy Spirit. Jesus is beginning to prepare the disciples—and us—for the important outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Each Person of the Trinity has a function, and the Holy Spirit is coming to do His.
We’ve come to the point in the Easter season where the names of the Sundays and the Readings don’t seem to line up. Today is named “Jubilate,” from the first phrase of the Introit in Latin: Jubilate Deo omnis terra, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth.” But then in the Gospel, Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” How do those things go together? Shout for joy—but the world is going to take delight in your misfortune. While there is sadness in this, it’s a reminder that our true rejoicing, our greatest shouting for joy is not in worldly things, but in the crucified and risen Jesus. And the joy He gives, no one can take from you.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.