Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Ascension Day Homecoming Party

A few years ago Rev. William Weedon was on Issues Etc. talking about (as I presume now through a scattered memory) Jesus' ascension. During his interview he mentioned a book by Otto Paul (O.P.) Kretzmann, one time president of Valparaiso University (1940-1968) and well known for his gifts of oratory, rhetoric and poetry. In conjunction with his discussion on Jesus' ascension, Rev. Weedon brought up a short piece written by O.P. Kretzmann in a book (now out of print) titled, The Pilgrim, published by Concordia Publishing House in 1944. The Pilgrim is a collection of articles which originally appeared in The Cresset, a publication of the Walther League, which also happened to be an organization for whom Kretzmann served as treasurer for six years. Within the pages of this book rests a marvelous piece on Jesus' ascension titled, Homecoming.

What is especially noticeable (in addition to the super prose) is the comfort which his writing brings the reader. One can hardly read this without being pounced on by joy, specifically that joy that is ours already in Christ's death, resurrection and ascension and even as we anticipate that joy on the day when "the term is ended and the holidays have begun" (to paraphrase Lewis in The Last Battle). If Jesus' ascension is his homecoming party - we too, like pilgrim sons and daughters exiled in a foreign land - long for our homecoming in the new heavens and the new earth. For in Christ's ascension we behold our own. Where Jesus goes, we go. He takes humanity with him, scars and all, but now glorified...back to the Father He goes. But He does not go alone. Jesus ascension is for you, and it is good news for you. And it is to that supernal joy in the Lamb's ascension and in our own future homecoming that O.P. Kretzmann directs us:

Now He as going home....In seven words the years of labor and sorrow end: "While they beheld, He was take up." ...There were no bells and banners on earth, but surely all the trumpets on the other side sounded as they had never sounded before...Surely the chiming golden bells of heaven sang their welcome, and angel choirs intoned the song of the throne: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength." ...On the anvils of God the nails had been forged into the scepter of a king..."He was taken up." ...The angel hosts sweep to either side, leaving the way clear to the Eternal Light that no longer blinds the eyes of us who stand gazing after Him....He leads a procession which comes from the ends of time and space, all the harvest of all the white fields the world has ever known, the pilgrims of the night who come at last to the dawn of an everlasting day...."He was taken up." The Child of the manger, the praying heart on the starlit lanes of Galilee, the hunger in the wilderness, the weariness of the Sychar Well, the tears of the Garden and the Hill, the thirst of the Cross - all over now....The robes of Transfiguration once momentary, now clothe Him forever, and angels and archangels sound the great doxology of His Waiting Church: "Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever." ...

An old story - perhaps too old for us to do more than glimpse its glory....And yet - we ought to remember it more clearly....It was the solemn moment in the story of the God and man when the visible Christ became the invisible Christ....From that hour everything concerning Him became visible only to the eyes of faith....The final line of demarcation in the world - between those who believe and those who refuse to believe - was now clear....Men can say that all this is not true and use the mind of man to reject the mind of God, or they can know that God once walked among them and that they now have a Friend in heaven who knows all that earth and time and pain can do to a man....

The Ascension did not take Jesus away....It brought heaven near....In the realm in which He now reigns time and space have no meaning....There is no up and down, no near and far, no darkness, and no distance in the world of faith....His homecoming has made heaven a home for us who still walk far from home....Wherefore stand we gazing into heaven? ...Our momentary task is here, but through the slow dimming of years we see the evening lamps of home tended by the pierced hands of Him who has gone to prepare a place for us....Is there a better way to live - or die? (The Pilgrim, O.P. Kretzmann, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1944. p. 14-15).

Kretzmann weaves the language of Scripture with his own picturesque language. And in addition to the Scriptures, there's no better place to learn about the joy of Christ's ascension than in the hymns of the church, like the one below.  A blessed Ascension Day to you all!

1    See, the Lord ascends in triumph;
    Conqu’ring King in royal state,
Riding on the clouds, His chariot,
    To His heav’nly palace gate.
Hark! The choirs of angel voices
    Joyful alleluias sing,
And the portals high are lifted
    To receive their heav’nly King.

2    Who is this that comes in glory
    With the trump of jubilee?
Lord of battles, God of armies,
    He has gained the victory.
He who on the cross did suffer,
    He who from the grave arose,
He has vanquished sin and Satan;
    He by death has crushed His foes.

3    While He lifts His hands in blessing,
    He is parted from His friends;
While their eager eyes behold Him,
    He upon the clouds ascends.
He who walked with God and pleased Him,
    Preaching truth and doom to come,
He, our Enoch, is translated
    To His everlasting home.

4    Now our heav’nly Aaron enters
    With His blood within the veil;
Joshua now is come to Canaan,
    And the kings before Him quail.
Now He plants the tribes of Israel
   In their promised resting place;
Now our great Elijah offers
    Double portion of His grace.

5    He has raised our human nature
    On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heav’nly places,
    There with Him in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
    Man with God is on the throne.
By our mighty Lord’s ascension
    We by faith behold our own.

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