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  • The Rev. Dr. Brian Rajcok

Ascended To Be All In All

Luke 24:44-53

Home Alone is a 1990 Christmas movie about a boy named Kevin McCallister who gets accidently left home alone when his family goes to Paris for Christmas. The night before they leave, he gets into arguments with his siblings and cousins who pick on him, and with his parents who think he’s the troublemaker and send him to his room. He goes to bed wishing he’d never see his family again. The next morning the alarm clocks don’t go off and the family is late for their flight. They rush and hurry into airport shuttles and just barely make it to the airport before their flight takes off. And in the hustle and bustle of it all, Kevin is left home alone. When Kevin wakes up to see no one is there and that the cars are still in the garage, he believes his wish came true and he made his family disappear. For a while Kevin enjoys his newfound freedom. But eventually, as the movie progresses, he starts to feel differently about his family disappearing.

Today is Ascension Sunday. The day Jesus disappears in a way. This past Thursday was 40 days after Easter, the day of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. After 40 days of apparently going between the physical world and the heavenly realm, Jesus leaves the physical world for good. Or so it seems. Today is also the Sunday we celebrate the First Communion of eight of our Sunday School students. It’s an important day in their lives. The first time they will receive the Eucharist, that is Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. And it’s fitting that today is the day we celebrate both of these. As we’ll see, the Lutheran tradition’s understanding of Communion has a lot to do with the Ascension.

Now maybe you imagine the Ascension as Jesus slowly floating upward into the clouds or maybe you envision it more as Jesus ascending into a higher dimension and gradually disappearing before their eyes. However it happened, the point seems clear: Jesus is gone, disappeared into heaven, no longer with us.

But the disciples are a little like when Kevin McCallister discovered his family disappeared; the disciples are happy about Jesus’ departure. This is the complete opposite from when Jesus was crucified. Then the disciples were afraid and sad. Now, the Gospel of Luke tells us, they went away rejoicing and were in the Temple continually praising God. You would think Jesus leaving them would make the disciples frightened and unsure of themselves. But maybe their experiences during the 40 days of liminal time between the Resurrection and Ascension had changed a great deal for them. In the texts we read this morning we catch a glimpse of how Jesus may have prepared them. Luke tells us Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures. And in Acts, Luke shares that Jesus told them “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And the Gospel of Matthew this scene ends with the words “And remember I am with you always to the end of the age.”

And so the disciples were filled with joy about Jesus disappearing in the Ascension because they knew it wasn’t a matter of Jesus being gone forever—they knew it was the beginning of him being present in a new way. They knew he hadn’t really disappeared. And they knew that this new way of Christ being present would mean the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of them and that God would continue Jesus’ ministry through them.

So just how is Jesus Christ present now in these 2000 years that have followed the Ascension? Martin Luther had a fabulous answer to that question. When considering the question of where the physical body of Jesus is now, Luther asserted that now Jesus is everywhere. Luther asked “If Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” what does that mean? Where did his physical body go? Is it still floating up moving across the galaxy? Luther said no, after the Ascension the physical body of Jesus Christ is everywhere. He is all and is in all. Christ is truly present in everything. As our Prayer of the Day said this morning, Jesus has ascended that he might fill all things. Or as our second reading said, Christ’s body fills all in all.

This Lutheran doctrine is called the “Ubiquity of the Corpus Christi” or the Ubiquity of the Body of Christ. The doctrine of ubiquity began with a question about the Ascension and led to an understanding about Christ’s presence in all things. The point of the Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity is that Christ is present in everything. Some theologians call this different things, like panentheism for example: the belief that God is present throughout all of creation and also beyond everything as well. And perhaps the most traditional word for it is God’s omnipresence—which has always been staple of Christian theology.

Now Luther’s doctrine of ubiquity—which was based on his understanding of the Ascension—was actually developed as a way of understanding Christ’s real presence in Holy Communion. Martin Luther taught in Holy Communion there is the real presence of Jesus Christ’s body and blood. He rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the idea that bread and wine transform into body and blood and are no longer bread and wine after the Words of Institution. This, Luther thought, was mere philosophical speculation. But Luther did hold onto the idea that Christ is truly present in Communion. He said that if Christ is truly present in all things, then he is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Especially since he specifically promised to be present there at the Last Supper.

In the book The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr, I remember reading something that I thought sounded very Lutheran. Rohr who is a Franciscan Roman Catholic, was writing about Christ’s presence in all things and said that the point of recognizing Christ’s real presence in Communion is to lead us toward an understanding of Christ’s real presence in all things. (That’s very Lutheran of you Richard, I thought).

And if that’s true, that has major implications for everyone and everything. It means that Christ is truly present throughout all the physical world. That creation isn’t somehow separate from the divine world. That all is one. This means that Christ is truly present in the beauty of nature. In the vastness of galaxies. In the depths of the atom. In the waterfalls, sunsets, and mountains. It means Christ is present in the animal world and in all of humanity too. And not just in the beautiful, positive stuff. It also means Christ is truly present in all the things we’d rather avoid. Christ is present in hospitals and psych wards. Christ is present in prisons and on streets filled with violence. Christ is present in the destruction wrought by hurricanes and in the rubble of cities destroyed by bombs. Christ being all in all means that God is truly present in all the things that make up existence. And is personally with us through all the ups and downs, all the joys and sorrows, of human experience.

And so that’s the theology of the Ascension and the theology of Holy Communion. And it’s not just theology, it is good news that Christ is still present with us in all things. It’s good news that no matter what we go through, Christ is present. Rejoicing with us. Suffering with us. Laughing with us. Grieving with us. The Ascension doesn’t mean Jesus is gone. It means he’s even closer than before. Christ has ascended and fills all things. Promising to be present in bread and wine. Coming to us in everything we see. And so let us rejoice in the Ascension. Let us rejoice that Christ is present in simple gifts of bread and wine. And let us rejoice that Christ is present in all things!

Ascension Sunday | Pastor Brian Rajcok | May 12, 2024

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