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Gone to Heaven; Be Back Soon!

May 30, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this Ascension Day is our first reading from Acts where Luke records, [Jesus] said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But 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 end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Hallmark’s business slogan is, effectively, “A card for every occasion.” In fact, if you Google that exact phrase, Hallmark’s website is the first hit. The card company has made a name for itself by providing pithy or heartfelt or silly sentiments on cardstock seemingly for every conceivable happenstance. It’s a wonder that they haven’t capitalized on all church holidays. From All Saints to Transfiguration, there’s incredible untapped potential there! Can you imagine them offering a greeting card for Reformation Day? For the record, I searched and couldn’t find any; odds are, all efforts to produce some have been suppressed by the Vatican. Or, how about St. Nicholas Day, also known affectionately to Trinitarian Christians around the world as “Punch-a-Heretic Day”? The humorous greetings practically write themselves! Well, how about Ascension Day? What would you put on an Ascension Day greeting card? What message would you write? “Up, Up and Away” … that’s a little “super-hero-y.” “Wishing you a Cloudy Day”… eh, dubious. “Every Cloud has a Silver Lining”… that almost seems irreverent. I’ve probably spent more time thinking about this than is healthy, but I think I may have hit upon the perfect Ascension Day greeting card. Try this: “Gone to Heaven! Be Back Soon!”

I say this only partially tongue-in-cheek. No, I’m not looking for any of you to write the CEO of Hallmark and demand any of these cards be made - in fact, please don’t; look what they’ve done to St. Patrick’s Day! No, I say this because this message, however pithy, is the core of the Ascension Day pericope.

We are nearing the end of the season of Easter, now 40 days after the news first broke that our Lord Jesus had been raised from the dead to the glory of the Father. During those 40 days, He’s appeared numerous times to many different people. He’s appeared to the apostles themselves at least three or four times. He’s appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He’s appeared to over 500 brothers at a single time. Whenever and wherever He showed up, He proclaimed His victory over sin, death, and the devil, and that the kingdom of God is at hand. Now those 40 days are over, and the time has now come for Him to depart.

Immediately prior to His departure, Jesus is staying with the disciples, and He gives them an order to not leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father, saying that they “will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” It seems like everything the disciples have been waiting for was finally coming to fruition. It’s little wonder, then, that they ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus had risen from the dead, conquering death; it seemed only logical that the restoration of the kingdom of Israel would be the next step. They thought Jesus had more to do to truly fulfill the words of the ancient prophets.

But they were mistaken. Jesus reminds them that “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” He does, however, remind them of the promise of the Holy Spirit, saying, “But 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 end of the earth.” That will be coming, as He mentioned earlier, “not many days from now.” Then, in a truly miraculous fashion, we are told Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Up and out of sight. Gone. To heaven. Aaaaaand … He’s not back yet.

Perhaps the disciples were expecting a mere momentary display of divinity like on the Mount of Transfiguration. Perhaps they were expecting Jesus to suddenly appear in their midst once again as He had done numerous times before these past 40 days. Perhaps they were expecting someone to come and tell them that Jesus was elsewhere like the ladies had done on the morning of His resurrection. Well, if they were expecting someone to show up and tell them that, they were not disappointed. Luke tells us that two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men 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 as you saw him go into heaven.”

In John’s Gospel account, on the night Jesus was betrayed, He told His disciples many things, preparing them for what was to come. One of the many things He tells them is, “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

We are right there with the disciples, aren’t we? Gazing skyward, in eager anticipation. Awaiting the return of the Son of God to bring to completion His restoration of all creation. Hoping that He will return – soon – to do away with this vale of tears where robbers break in and steal, where moth and rust eat away, where tornadoes and cancer and terrorism take away the ones we love. We are eagerly waiting for Him to return and do away with the ugliness that our sin has wrought upon this world. Indeed, we rightly yearn for the return of Christ Jesus, our Lord. But that is not for us to know. The Father has things well in hand. He’s already provided for our greatest need, in the forgiveness of our sin through Christ Jesus. He’s given us His gifts of Word and Sacrament to strengthen our faith and service in the face of calamity and hatred. He’s given us His promises, and as we look through history at His track record, He has shown Himself to be faithful in all things. He’s kept His promises, and He will keep the promises that remain.

I doubt Hallmark would ever make an Ascension Day card, but if they did, I do think the right message is, “Gone to heaven; be back soon!” We see in this jocular sentiment the truth of Christ Jesus’s current ascended status, seated at the Father’s right hand, and His promise to bring us to where He is. This would be a card of encouragement, to remind you that Jesus is coming again, soon, and that all the world will see and know it! Ugliness reigns in this broken cosmos, but we hold to the same promise the two angels proclaimed to the disciples: This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. Take heart, my friends. On account of Christ, your sins are forgiven, and though He has gone away from us into heaven, He will be back, even very soon.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Acts 1:1-11