22 May 2006

Ascension Day Homily

Tonight, we meditate upon a single verse in our Gospel. These words: “So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.”

When you hear, “sat down” what do you think of? Do you picture Jesus sitting up in heaven, twiddling his thumbs, and waiting patiently for His Father to give Him the signal that the time has come to return again in glory? What is He up to as He sits at the right hand of the Father?

First thing we need to clear up is this right hand business. The sacred writer is not giving you hints about heavenly geography, so that when you get to heaven you’ll know on which side of the Father to look to see the Lord Jesus. Right hand is bigger than that!

Recall the words of the Psalmist: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. The right hand of the Lord is exalted. The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” Ps. 118:16

The right hand of the Lord in scripture is not a place, but a power! It is almighty power. And so to say that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God is to say that He has all power, that He rules and governs all things! Listen to how Paul said it in Ephesians: “He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the age to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Eph 1:20-23

So, when we confess in the Creed that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father we confess that the human nature which He assumed from the womb of the Blessed Virgin, and in which He offered to God the sufficient ransom to release all people from the debt of sin and the power of death, that this human nature has now been exalted and raised above every height imaginable, given the exercise of all power in heaven and on earth. The One who bears in His hands the scars of the nails now rules over all!

So when I complain about the way things go in my life, when I gripe about the troubles of the world or of the Church, I am actually complaining about the way the Crucified and Risen One sees fit to govern, aren’t I? Puts a different perspective on life, doesn’t it? Me pitting my puny wisdom and ideas against the omnipotence and wisdom of Christ.

In the early days of the Church, this was not forgotten. Even as the persecutions raged and people died for the faith, they never forgot the One in charge. There’s a writing called the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp that comes down to us from those earliest days of the Church. It’s a fascinating little document, but where it really soars is at the end. Listen: “It was the second day of the first fortnight of Xanthicus, seven days before the calends of March, when our blessed Polycarp died his martyr’s death two hours after midday on the Greater Sabbath. The official responsible for his arrest was Herod; the High Priest was Philip of Tralles; and the proconsul was Statius Quadratus – BUT THE RULING MONARCH WAS JESUS CHRIST, WHO REIGNS FOREVER AND EVER. TO HIM BE ASCRIBED ALL GLORY, HONOR, MAJESTY, AND AN ETERNAL THRONE FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION.” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, par. 21)

What confidence and peace those early Christians had as they remembered and confessed who sits upon the throne of this universe! It can give the same confidence and peace to us.

But there’s even more to being seated at the right hand of God. Our Lord Jesus not only rules all things for the well-being of His holy Church! He also constantly intercedes for us before the Father. The writer to Hebrews put it this way: “Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them!” (Hebrews 7:25) For you, He prays. When you sin, He says to His Father, “Father, forgive. Look not upon the sin, but upon these scars that testify that I have answered for all their sin.” Thus He is our Mediator, the one who stands in the breach between us and God. His being Mediator did not cease when the work of the cross was done. He continues to be our Mediator by His unceasing intercession for us by which He saves us to the uttermost.

And yet there’s even more. Since the “right hand of God” is not to be thought of as a place, but as a power, the Ascension of our Lord does not remove Him from us, but brings Him closer to us. Oh, His visible presence is removed. But He is not removed. His promise stands forever: “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt 28 St. Leo the Great got the hang of it. He preached to his parish in Rome: “The visible presence of Christ has passed into His sacraments.” When you come to the altar today, you not only receive the Body and Blood that were offered in your place on Calvary’s tree for the forgiveness of your sin! You receive the Body and Blood of Him who sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling over all things. Thus Paul could rejoice that “He has raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2) The Sacrament lifts you that high!

How great then are the treasures contained in: “And sat down at the right hand of God.” Ruling every circumstance, and so peace displaces our complaining. Interceding constantly for us, and joy drives out our anxieties. Constantly with us in His sacraments, and so we are never alone, but always with Him who sits at the right hand of God. Jesus, our Mediator. Jesus, our King. Jesus, our Risen, Ascended, and Glorified Lord. To whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all glory and honor now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.


Wartburg said...

Pastor Weedon,
Greetings and how so rich indeed are these thoughts and words of GOD (from you). What do you do with Revelation Chapter 1? I never really hear any one refer to JESUS like HE is referred to here.
Revelation 1:10
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
11Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
12And I turned to see THE VOICE that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
13And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
14His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
15And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
16And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
17And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
18I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
19Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
20The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
Look at that description of JESUS, what a sight indeed.
P.S. Please respond, I want to enjoy your understanding as well.

William Weedon said...


I love that whole section. Where do you find Jesus? He is standing in the midst of the candlestands, which are His churches. He holds in his hands the messengers (angels) of the Churches, that is, His pastors. He appears in a glory that cannot be depicted fully but only hinted at. The same Jesus John leaned against at the Eucharist is here revealed, unveiled, like at the Transfiguration. This is who He is! This is what He has lifted human nature to! Our brother, who is flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, shines like that! Awesome!

The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns
The Mighty Victor's brow.

The highest place that heaven affords
Is His, Is His by right,
The King of kings and Lord of lords,
And heaven's eternal Light;

The joy of all who dwell above,
The Joy of all below,
To whom He manifests His love
And grants His name to know.

To them, the cross with all its shame,
With all its grace is given;
Their name, an everlasting name,
Their joy the joy of heaven.