I stopped and stared for a moment at the large painting of Jesus ascending into the clouds of heaven boldly displayed on the wall above the altar at First Lutheran Church in Nashville, Tennessee. I had never seen a painting of Jesus that large. It made a lasting impression on me.
That Jesus who came to this earth in the flesh as an infant born to Mary and Joseph is the same crucified and risen Lord who went up into heaven and will come again just as the disciples saw him on that day of his ascension.
As Jesus was surrounded by the heavenly clouds and hidden from sight, an angel proclaimed the divine promise to the disciples, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come again in the same way as you saw him go.” (Acts 1:11)
With Jesus there is a divine coming.
Jesus, the Word made flesh, the One who was with the Father and the Spirit from all eternal, this Son of God who always was and who always will be, humbled himself, took on human flesh, and came into this world as the holy child born to the virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph. This was the divine coming which Scripture reveals to us for our salvation.
With Jesus there is a divine going.
On this day of the church year we remember and celebrate Jesus’ going, that is, his physical leaving of this world and ascending into heaven. Jesus went up. He returned to his heavenly Father and throne where he lives reigns over all planets, all stars, all galaxies, all living creatures, all of God’s creation.
And with Jesus theres is divine coming back to this earth.
We refer to Jesus returning to earth as the Second Coming. At the ascension the angel told the disciples that Jesus will return to them and to the world in the same way as he departed. All flesh will one day see Jesus descend to this world on clouds of glory to judge people of every time and place.
But this divine coming and going was not only for the risen Jesus.
This pattern was also for Jesus’ disciples. Coming and going is the pattern of discipleship. At the ascension Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit, the Power from on high, will come to them. They would be inspired. They would be strengthened for mission to go out to Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth to witness to the grace Christ offers to all people.
So, it is with us. Jesus invites us to come to him in Holy Communion to receive his body and blood, his real presence, for faith, life, and forgiveness. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to come to us and to speak to us through Scripture so that the words and promises of hope and life from our Lord are implanted on our hearts and minds.
Therefore, strengthened in faith, fed at Christ’s holy table, fortified with God’s Word, we go out into the world to witness for Christ. We go out into daily life living as Christ wants us to live loving God above all things and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Coming is part of daily life.
Think of all the invitation we have had for special events. “Come to our wedding,” is the invitation we receive in the mail from dear friends. “Come to our house this Saturday for a backyard barbecue,” is the invitation from our next door neighbor. “Come to church this Sunday with me,” is the invitation we hear from a devoted Christian zealous to spread the word of God.
But going is also part of our lives.
We leave or go out from the wedding and its reception with joyful hearts and a reminder of the goodness of marriage as a gift from God. We leave or go out from the neighborhood barbecue refreshed from a delightful afternoon with those who live just down the street from us. We leave or go out from a church service assured of God’s everlasting love through Christ and challenged to live more like our Lord with the help of the Holy Spirit.
It is sad and sinful when our coming leads to a life of hatred or evil, We don’t want to come to a conclusion that we hate those who think differently from us politically or religiously. We don’t want to come to the moment of evil where we plot to deceive our business associates and seek to harm them to gain an unfair advantage. And we don’t want to go out into the world with a chip on our shoulders thinking we are much better than the next person so that we neglect our neighbor in need. We don’t want to go out into the world with such greed that we will do most anything to gain that extra buck through illegal means.
Our coming and our going in this world needs to be centered on Christ who has first of all come to us with an everlasting love and sends us out to share that love with all people the Spirit sends our way.
And in the end, on that final day, on that judgement day, we will behold Christ face to face. We will see our Lord come to us to take us to be with him forevermore in the kingdom that has no end.
Jesus will come again to this world just as he went up into heaven. That painting of Jesus’ ascension above the altar at First Lutheran Church in Nashville will always be a reminder of divine going and coming again to all who believe – for you, for me, and for all people of every time and place who look to Jesus as Lord of All.
Thanks be to God!