Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension Sermon: "Jesus Blessed Them"

+ The Ascension of Our Lord – May 14th, 2015 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

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

You can learn a lot about a person simply by looking at their hands. Married, engaged, or single.  What they do for a living, hobbies or instruments they play. Every scar, wrinkle, and line has a story to tell.

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 

If hands tell us a story, what story do Jesus’ hands tell us?

Neither of St. Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ ascension tell us what words Jesus spoke as he blessed his disciples. But we need only look to his hands and we shall know. In the hands He raised in blessing we can read the meaning and blessing of Jesus.

These hands wiggled with joy and all our human littleness and frailty as he nursed from his mother Mary.

These hands learned to hold a quill and write the words of Scripture that Jesus knew so well by the time he was examined in the temple at age 12.

These hands worked with hammer and saw in the wood-shavings of Joseph’s workshop, sharing and blessing our work with us.

These are the hands whose hallowed touch brought sight to the blind, speech to the mute, and whose hands removed impurity.

These are the warm hands teeming with life that took hold of a little girl and brought her back to life.

These hands stretched out, touched, or grasped with that personal, individual love that marks the healings of Jesus. He could’ve healed people by the dozens with the snap of his divine finger. But instead he was there for each one that needed him, holding their weak and frail flesh in his own.

These are the hands that gathered the little children in his arms to embrace them and bless them.

These are the hands that gripped and rescued Peter as he looked away from Jesus and began to sink.

These are the hands that gave thanks, took the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples – and his Church saying, “This is my body, given for you.”

These are the hands that Thomas saw and worshiped as doubt gave way to faith.
All of this is in Jesus’ hands as he blesses the disciples, as he blesses us. All of this and more.

For in each of Jesus’ hands remains a little red badge of redemption – for the disciples, for me, for you, for the world.

In Jesus’ hands we see the mark of the nails. Those jagged, glorious scars which give us Jesus’ blessing and proclaim how it was won for us.

All of our pain, our deepest sorrows, our every grief, our innumerable sins, even the cold grip of death were held in those hands. And by those hands Jesus has overcome every one of our fears, sins, and death. Every scar, wrinkle, and line of Jesus’ hands proclaim the story of your salvation.

All the sin that our hands – and minds and hearts – have wrought – is paid for by Jesus’ hands. Because Jesus’ hands were stretched out on the cross for you, today they are once again stretched out in blessing for you. And that means that we’re sinners in the hands of a merciful God.

Cross and blessing go together, especially on Ascension Day. After all, Jesus didn’t raise his hands in blessing that day only for his disciples, but also for you.

While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
Jesus’ ascension is a day of hope and joy for us.

Jesus’ ascension, as we confess in the Creeds, is to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Though this isn’t some particular place. Jesus isn’t locked up in a distant heavenly throne room. The right hand of God is the exercise of the whole power of God, which now is in the hands – the crucified, risen, and ascended hands – of Jesus.

Or in the words of St. Paul, Jesus ascension is his coronation. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, who has ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things (Eph. 4:10). Jesus is now seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

And this is good news for us, just as it was for his disciples. Though you cannot see Jesus’ hands; they are still here in his Church blessing us.

Jesus’ ascension brings Jesus closer to you, not farther away. Jesus’ ascension allows him to be present with his church, to fill the earth with his human body and with those hands of blessing.

So when the pastor puts his hands on your head, pours water over your head, and baptizes you – his hands are merely instruments of Jesus’ hands.

When the pastor places his hands upon your head and pronounces “You are forgiven all your sins” – his hands – and more importantly his word of forgiveness – is Jesus’ forgiveness.
When the pastor’s hands place into your mouth and your hands Jesus’ body and blood, this is Jesus work of blessing for you.

All of this happens because of Jesus’ ascension. Jesus is not absent; he is our ever-present Lord and brother. The miracle and wonder of Jesus’ ascension is that he continues to raise his hands in blessing for his Church, for you his people. Wherever his word of repentance and forgiveness of sins is proclaimed; wherever Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper are given for the remission of our sins – there are Jesus’ hands raised in blessing.

Today we join the disciples in worshiping our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord with great joy.

A blessed Ascension Day to you all…

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

This sermon was heavily influenced by the Ascension sermon of Norman Nagel, preached at Cambridge in 1965, available in print in “Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis. CPH, 2004, p. 144-146.”

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