Sunday, May 16, 2010

Phillips Family Liturgy for Feast of Ascension

Introduction (Dad)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for the last forty days we have been celebrating with joyful hearts the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, His bursting from the tomb and His defeat of the power of sin and death. During this time He appeared to his disciples many times and told them about the kingdom of God.
Today we recall His ascension, when He left this earth and returned to His Father, ascending into heaven to take His throne over all dominions and powers. Trusting in His reign over all creation, and submitting to His kingly yet loving rule, let us hear the story of His parting.
First Scripture Reading (Matthew):
Acts 1:9-11
“This is the Word of the Lord.”
Thanks be to God.
Second Scripture Reading (Timothy):
Luke 24:50-53
“This is the Word of the Lord.”
Thanks be to God.
Third Scripture Reading (Miriam):
            Ephesians 4:7-13
“This is the Word of the Lord.”
Thanks be to God.
Fourth Scripture Reading (Esther):
            1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Collect for Ascension Day (Everyone)
Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
That as we believe your only-begotten Son
         our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens,
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen
Message (Dad)

Today is ascension Sunday, that wonderful feast that occurs forty days after Easter and remembers our Lord’s departure into Heaven. (Ascension Day was actually last Thursday, but it is hard to celebrate on a work day.)
When the church year began at Advent, we anticipated the coming of our Lord, the light of the world. When Christmas finally arrived, we celebrated His birth as a baby at Bethlehem. Soon after that, we rejoiced at Epiphany, celebrating the fact that all peoples are being brought into His kingdom. During Lent we remembered the sufferings of our Savior, leading up to the remembrance of His death on Good Friday. When Easter arrived, we rejoiced at Christ’s resurrection. Now, on Ascension Sunday, we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven, even as we look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
But why should we celebrate our Lord’s ascension into heaven? Wouldn’t it have been good if Jesus had remained on earth with us?
As we were reminded in the sermon this morning, only by returning to heaven and sitting at the Father’s right hand is Jesus able to begin His messianic reign (Psalm 110). And He will continue reigning in heaven until He has put all his enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15: 25)
After all things have been put under His feet, Jesus will return again and conquer the last enemy: death itself (1 Cor. 15: 26). In the meantime, however, and because of the ascension, Jesus is both absent and present.
He is absent because He ascended into Heaven. That is why the only people now who can see Jesus’ physical body are those who have died and gone to wait with Him in heaven.
It is important not to forget that Jesus is a real man, with a real human, physical body, with two legs, two arms, one nose. But while He is like us in these respects, He is different to the degree that He already been given His new body - the resurrection body that has been glorified and is no longer subject to the death principle. When He comes again and finishes defeating death, we too will be given glorified bodies and we will be able to see Him face to face.
In the meantime, Jesus has not entirely abandoned the earth, for even as He was ascending, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to His people, which we celebrate next Sunday at Pentecost. He also gives us Himself every Lord’s Day in the sacraments and the preaching of the Word. He is present also with us in the church – as imperfect as it is - and the various offices that have been given to us as gifts, which the passage from Ephesians 4 reminds us about.
When Jesus comes again, then His full presence – which the sacraments and the church give us mere glimpses - will be manifested on the earth.
Thus the ascension is both happy and sad, both bitter and sweet. Certainly the disciples were sorry to see Jesus leave them, and the angels had to come and encourage them with the hope that He would one day come again. But the feast of ascension is also happy, because only by taking His seat in heaven at the helm of the world is He able to intercede for us and begin the long and gradual process of subjecting all things to him.
It is very appropriate, therefore, that we are have lemon meringue pie. This pie, like the ascension, is both sour and sweet. And even as “a cloud received Jesus out of their sight,” so the fluffy toping on the pie is as close as food can get to looking like a cloud.
One final thing to think about. The project of Jesus subjecting all things under His feet applies to really big things. To applies to England, it applies to America, to China, to Russia as well as to all the small nations that we don’t hear a lot about. It applies to all the lands below the equator to all the lands above the equator. It applies to all these places because one day the worship of God will fill all of these lands as the waters cover the sea. One day even wicked places like North Korea and Iran will ring with people singing Psalms on the Lord’s Day, and they won’t have to do it in secret.
But the work of the Messianic age doesn’t just take place on the big scale. The work which Jesus began after He ascended on high is something that is taking place right here in our home and in our hearts. Part of what it means for Jesus to put all things under His feat is that he moves in our hearts to bring love where there was once unlove, graciousness where there was once pettiness, kindness where there was once bickering and contention. Every time you put the needs of one of your brothers or sisters above yourself, every time you speak graciously to your brothers and sisters when you were tempted to yell, every time you forgo something you wanted to do in order to meet the need of someone else, and every time you obey your parents without back-talking or being grumpy about it – that is proof that the power of Jesus is working to subject all things to Himself.
With these thoughts in mind, let us pray and give God thanks for the food...

Song after Dinner:

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