St. Luke's Anglican Church
Traditional Anglican Service from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer
Sermon for Ascension Day, 2019
June 2, 2019
David J. Kapley, Priest
St. Luke's Anglican Church
Bowling Green, Kentucky
"And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." The Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 24, verse 51.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be alway acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my Redeemer.
An early Holy Day in Ancient Christianity was Easter, for obvious reasons. Yet there is no clear evidence that the earliest Christians celebrated Christmas, the Holy Day in honor of the birth of the Christ. For hundreds of years it appears that the ancient Christians did not celebrate Christmas at all. The first written record of the celebration of Christmas is in the fourth century A.D. A list of bishops in Rome compiled in 354 A.D contains one short sentence. This one short sentence reports that in 336 A.D. there was a celebration on December 25th that commemorated the birth of Christ in Judea.
Today we are celebrating Ascension Day, the day that Jesus ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. It is a fixed Holy Day in our Anglican calendar, on May 30. Because of its importance, some Anglican Churches will celebrate Ascension Day today, which is the First Sunday after Ascension Day.
The amount of time and effort that we Christians spend on Christmas is big; the amount of time and effort that we Christians spend on Ascension Day is little. I am not saying that we should abolish Christmas. I am asking, why does Ascension Day receive so little attention?
Here, I think, is one reason: it is much easier to celebrate Christmas in a manner that is false and worldly, compared with Ascension Day. More consumer buying occurs on account of Christmas in our country than any other holiday. At Christmas we can get enthralled with the razzle and the dazzle and the lights and the tinsel.
The tone of Ascension Day is different. On Ascension Day we are reminded that Jesus is victorious and ascended into Heaven - - - and that He shall return to judge the living and the dead.
You can read St. John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople. You can study the venerable Bede, scholastic English monk who lived most of his life in two English monasteries. You can inspect the writings of dozens of other Christians. They all emphasize how the Ascension demonstrates the glory and majesty and power of Christ. He sits at the right hand of God the Father.
Ascension Day highlights to us Who is Jesus Christ.
Our recessional hymn is "All hail the power of Jesus' Name!"---the most famous hymn of the great English hymnist Edward Perronet. Perronet was the son of a Church of England Priest. In that hymn he emphasizes the joyous worship that is provided to Jesus, Who is both the Man and God.
How can our understanding of Ascension Day influence us in our lives day-by-day on earth? Our gratitude to God can help us to live for the glory of God. Faithful Christians can anticipate with joy how they too can live in Heaven
Jesus is the Pantokrator, a word that comes to us from Biblical Greek, and which means "the Ruler of All Things." From the beginning a central belief of Christianity has been that Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead. That is what the Holy Bible says. That is what we affirm in the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. Both of those Creeds are in our Prayer Book.
The living and the dead: that includes you, and that includes me. Now that is a sobering thought - - -a thought that promotes reflection, introspection, and for some, fear. What if Jesus returns before I finish this sermon? Are we ready for the return of Jesus? People of St. Luke's Anglican Church in Bowling Green? I mean to ask you this: are we really ready?
I imagine that we all remember the Parable of the Talents. Each servant received from the master a different amount of resources. When the master returned, he made diligent inquiry whether each servant had used wisely the particular resources provided to that particular servant.
We Americans love to assert our rights. We pay less attention to our responsibilities. I do not own my body. You do not own yours. The amount of time each of us have on this earth is a gift from God. The precise length of that time is unknown to each of us. But we do know this: the Son of God will eventually inquire of each of us how we made use of that gift.
What of this last week? What if each of us took a tally of all the minutes in the last seven days? How many of those minutes in the last seven days did each of us spend doing the will of God? How many minutes in those last seven days did each of us spend doing our own self-focused will?
Johann Albrecht Bengel was a famous scholar of Biblical languages and a Lutheran Bishop in the early 1700s. In November, 1735 an infectious epidemic was sweeping through Germany. Bishop Bengel contracted the illness, developed fever, but continued to preach in Church until he fell over. Bengel appeared to be near death. Bengel was convinced that he was about to die. He urged that his followers to forget about him and instead, pray for the Second Advent of Jesus - - -the time when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead
Bengel languished with this serious illness for a lengthy period of time. Yet, much to his surprise, he did recover. He lived for another 17 years to preach the Gospel.
Just like Bengel, we do not know how long we have on this earth. Yet Bengel provides to us a perspective on the Christian life. In one of his books, Bengel discusses the Ascension of Jesus. Bengel observes that the time between the Ascension and the Second Advent of Christ can be immediate.
The Second Advent of Christ can be immediate. My death and your death can be immediate. To use the words of Bishop Bengel, we should live each moment expecting that the arrival of Christ will be "without intermission."
Or, listen to the Letter to the Hebrews. That statement is short, realistic, and thought-provoking: And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." Hebrews 9:27-28.
The Church of England priest Jeremy Taylor was correct when he wrote this: "God hath given to man a short time here upon earth, and yet upon this short time eternity depends." People of St. Luke's Anglican Church in Bowling Green, live the rest of your lives as though in the next second you will meet your Maker. If we focus on eternity, we will be less likely to be distracted by all the meaningless stuff that goes on in America today.
If we reflect on Ascension Day, is more difficult to submerge ourselves in the distractions of post-modern America. Then, we will strive for not our will, but God's will, in our lives. Then, as Jesus promised in the Parable of the Talents, we shall hear that most blessed approval: well done, you good and faithful servant.
Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.