Ascension · Ephesians 1:15-23 · May 1, 2008
By Charles P. Arand,
“There’s A New Lord in Town”
Ascension Day is included as one of the milestone events in the grand narrative of the Gospel as set forth by the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. And yet, it doesn’t seem to receive its due among Lutherans. Is it decreasing in importance? Ascension Day seems to be the forgotten festival, hardly on par with Christmas, Good Friday, or Easter. The lectionary simply lists Ascension Day as a separate festival. The same thing occurs in the Thrivent desk calendar. Ascension Day does not even get a page of its own in the LSB lectionary, and the lessons are not printed! (Even Wednesdays in Advent and Lent get that, as does that non-liturgical holiday, Thanksgiving.) Furthermore, the lectionary makes no provision for its observance on the Sunday following Ascension Day, should churches not celebrate it on its designated day.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we do not know what to do with Ascension Day. It may appear more as a going away day in which Christ leaves us behind. How can we celebrate that? Perhaps it is because the day focuses on the lordship of Christ and Lutherans do not quite know what to do with that. After all, the Evangelicals seem to have laid claim to that tide for Christ and with it a stress on the sovereignty of Christ in a way that lays more emphasis upon Christ’s role as a master than as a savior. But there is a Lutheran (and thus Biblical) way of interpreting the ascension and session of Christ (these should be taken together) as a gracious lordship. Within the context of the creed, the ascension of Christ occupies an important place. But the creed does not give us an explicit interpretation of its meaning. In fact, the creedal narrative of Christ’s work can be interpreted through at least three different motifs, all of them interconnected, but with different emphases.
First, in light of the atonement and the propitiation of God’s wrath, we can understand the ascension as Christ returning to heaven where He sits at the right hand of God and serves as our mediator since He is one of us. Hebrews picks up this idea. Second, the meaning of the ascension can be unpacked with the motif of creation in which Christ is the Second Adam who undid the devastation and death wrought by the first Adam. Here it should be noted that it is as a man that Jesus ascends into heaven in order to sit at the right hand of God. In other words, as the first Adam lost dominion over creation, the Second Adam (and we with Him) requires that dominion here in the Ascension. Finally, in light of Christ’s victory over Satan on the cross and in the resurrection, the ascension can be interpreted as Christ taking up His rule over the principalities and powers, making them His footstool. Our Ephesians text picks up this particular theme.
If we enter the Christus Victor story at the point of the incarnation of the Son of God, we would stress that Christ came in order to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn 3:8). During His life on earth, beginning with the temptation narrative and culminating in His death and resurrection, Christ engaged in a duel (Luther calls it the Magnificent Duel) with Satan. Satan in turn devoted all his energies to the goal of preventing Christ from achieving salvation for us. He failed. In His death and resurrection, Jesus triumphed over the power of the devil, along with his allies of sin and death. Christ won a decisive victory for us as demonstrated in His taking the enemy’s capital with the descent into hell. By His ascension, He entered heaven where He kicks Satan out (Rev 12) as our accuser once and for all and makes His enemies His footstool. The reference is to Psalm 110, the most quoted passage of the Old Testament in the New Testament. It speaks about how a conquering ruler would place his feet upon the necks of his defeated enemies.
Now Christ rules over all, not as a despot or tyrant, but as a gracious Lord or Shepherd King. The final sentences of AC III can provide some direction about how to take this and develop it. Christ rules by giving His Holy Spirit, through whom He protects, guards, and defends us against the last gasping efforts of Satan to take us down with him. By His rule, Christ nourishes us and strengthens us with His means of grace now that He has made us His own and we live under Him in His kingdom.
There’s a New Lord in Town
I. Joyous celebration. Concluding scene of the first Star Wars movie. Huge hall. Heroes are honored. Awards and places of honor are given. This might give us a sense of the setting of the ascension, but doesn’t compare to what happens here.
II. Christ Rules: All Things Have Been Placed under His Feet.
A. The ascension is the climactic event of His victory procession (resurrection, descent into hell, and now ascension). Heaven receives Him, God honors Him.
Β. Kicks Satan out (Rev 12). Christ rules over His enemies. In Baptism we have been transferred from tyranny of Satan to lordship of Christ.
III. Living under His Rule is Good News
A. Christ’s rule is a rule of graciousness. He rules by giving us the Holy Spirit and the gifts of redemption.
B. Christ protects us from the evil one and ultimately will deliver us from Satan.
C. From the right hand of God, Christ will bring all things to their consummation and reconcile all things to himself.
IV. We used to use the expression, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” This meant that things were going to change. The Ascension tells us, “There’s a new Lord in town.” That’s great news.