Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Ascension Day - 05/05/2016

If you’re like me when it comes to thinking about the Ascension, a timeframe of forty days sticks in our minds – Jesus was around for forty days after the resurrection. This year we’ve listened to “appearance” stories from John’s gospel: twice with Jesus in the upper room (including the one with Doubting Thomas). And we got to hear the fish story, with the breakfast on the beach that occurred at a later point. We’ve had a sense of time passing with these encounters, days and weeks that move us from the Resurrection to the Ascension.

But in Luke’s gospel, Ascension is interpreted as happening later in the day on Easter.  All the resurrection appearances of Jesus are in a single day: first to the two travelers on the road to Emmaus; then there’s the briefly mentioned encounter with Peter; and a bit later, Jesus shows up where the disciples are gathered in the Upper Room. They think he’s an apparition, so Jesus demonstrates that he’s truly alive by eating broiled fish. Then we move right into the Ascension story, our text for this evening. With John’s Gospel, we’re given a bit of time to get used to the realization that Jesus is alive, but not so in Luke. Things move right along.

Jesus has spent the afternoon and evening hours with the two men on the Emmaus road, interpreting the Scriptures, from Moses to the Prophets, explaining that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and enter into glory. Later in the day, he’s with his disciples, and once again, Luke’s focus is on the Scriptures, how Jesus is opening their minds in understanding, helping them grasp that he is the fulfillment of everything written about him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. For the second time, Luke has Jesus’ words focusing on the Messiah’s suffering and rising from the dead … These words have been fulfilled.

Those gathered in that room are witnesses to all that has taken place, and this very evening, Easter evening, they are given a mission, a mission to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins “to all nations”. The Father has promised that these disciples will be equipped for the mission through the giving of the Holy Spirit, and they are told to wait for this powerful gift to come to them.

For us, it’s been weeks since Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, but with this text, we go back in time. The disciples have been through three days of shock and fear and terror at Jesus’ arrest and execution.

And now, on this Easter Day, they’re just beginning to process the astonishing news: Jesus has risen!

After this emotional rollercoaster, it would be normal for the disciples to want to rest in the presence of their Lord: to have him near, so that he might once again teach them, teach others, heal the sick; to want to take some time to figure out what they’re going to do next.  Now that this amazing thing has happened, let’s just lie low for a while.        ...

But a time of rest and recovery and restoration with their Lord is not to be.

Because the next thing we know, Jesus is leading the disciples out to Bethany, over on the Mount of Olives, where … after lifting up his hands and blessing them … Jesus is taken up into heaven.

Easter Day has ended with the Ascension.

Jesus has left; physically, he’s now gone.  Can you imagine? Jesus appears … eats with them … teaches them … and a very short time later, is gone.

Another shock. Wouldn’t the normal reaction be one of great sadness at having been abandoned? Presence replaced by emptiness. We might expect the disciples to walk away dejected and downcast, hopeless, looking longingly back on their life “before”, but instead we hear the words: “… they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”

Worship ……. Joy ……. Blessing

The Risen Jesus has blessed his disciples, showing his favor, conferring his grace upon them. Even before the promised Holy Spirit comes, the disciples are assured of God’s kind attention, God’s care and favor. And the disciples immediately respond – elated! Christ has entered into his glory at Ascension, and as we know from the book of Acts, he has been exalted and enthroned at God’s right hand. Christ has left this earthly life, and the disciples are moving into a time of waiting. With Christ’s blessing, they do so with a sense of promise and purpose. They are filled with joy and, in return, bless God by worshiping and adoring, thanking and praising God in the temple.

In May of 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached an Ascension Day sermon that focused on joy in our time of waiting, waiting for the return of Jesus Christ in the last days. A prayer section within Bonhoeffer’s sermon reads this way:

“King of the church, Master of joy beyond compare, give us great longing and desire, a mighty homesickness for you – then come and comfort us with your ascension; make us certain of your promise, that one day the curtain that separates us will fall. We cannot see you, but we love you; we do not have you before our eyes, but we believe in you; we have plenty of sorrows and trouble, but your sermon and sacraments make us joyful. Lord, give more joy to your church for without joy in the sermon and joy in the sacraments, there is no church. Without the church, the whole world is joyless and miserable …”

And here we are, in this church, on Ascension Day, taking time to worship – finding joy in the blessings that are available through the Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Christ is visiting us through the Scriptures today – in the Acts of the Apostles, the letter to the Ephesians, and the Gospel of Luke. Christ is visiting us, too, in the Lord’s Supper where we sinners gather together for forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation. We have today these gifts, and the occasion of the Ascension to be reminded that, like the disciples, we, too, are in a time of waiting … for last things, the coming again of our Lord, anticipating incredible joy and rejoicing. We are in the time between Christ’s Ascension and his second coming, waiting in hope, experiencing joy in Word and Sacraments, and living out our faith – together in worship.

Yes, the Lord has ascended, but he has not abandoned us. He continues to be known and experienced by our church in the breaking of the bread and through the Word. Like the disciples, we are blessed, and our hearts are filled with joy at the gift of the Messiah who suffered, died, and was raised for us.


Vicar Terry Frankenstein


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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