The Ascension of the Lord, Year B, 2018 – Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
At breakfast yesterday morning we were talking about Job. Nicholas was in high dudgeon. Who is this God? He asked. There’s Job, blameless and upright, a man who fears God and does no evil, and when Satan the Accuser says, “Job is only God-fearing because you have blessed him; if you stretch out your hand against him he will not be so good,” God says, “Ok. Go ahead. Do with him what you will. He’s in your power.” And when, after losing everything he has and everyone he loves and being afflicted with boils and loathsome sores, Job still does not curse God but cries out to God saying, “Why?”, God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” I am El Shaddai, the Almighty. Who are you to question my ways? The Book of Job gives us God the Omnipotent, whose ways are too hard for us, who is to the human being in the time of suffering finally inscrutable.
Ascension Day gives us God Almighty in the face of Jesus, Jesus who was crucified raised into the glory of Almighty God. And that makes all the difference.
O clap your hands, ye peoples! We sing on this day.
“God has gone up with a mighty shout!
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
For God is king of all the earth.
That is Psalm 47, which sings God the King, God ascending to his throne. It is a coronation hymn, recognizing the sovereignty of God. We sing it today for Jesus. On this day, Jesus reigns. O Lord Most High, eternal king, ascending to the sapphire throne, the ancient hymn says. This is this throne of Ezekiel’s vision:
And I looked, and behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire Infolding itself…and out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures;…
And every one had four faces and every one had four wings…As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right side, and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle…And the living creatures
ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning…
And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone…and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it…as the colour of amber,…as the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about [like the appearance of a rainbow]….This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. (Ezek 1)
It is God Almighty who sits on the sapphire throne around which the four living creatures flash like lightning. It is God Almighty who sits there, and on this day it is [also] Jesus, the risen Christ.
This is the great song of Revelation:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could
count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white,
with palm branches in their hands. They cried out with a loud voice
saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne,
And to the Lamb.”
All the righteous suffering people of the world, from every nation, standing now before the throne of God, crying out in joy because they see on the throne of God the Lamb.
This is the day of the victory of our God, and it is known in the Lamb. God on his throne, God in his power, El Shaddai the omnipotent is known on this day in the Lamb.
It is for this reason that the suffering people rejoice. It is for this reason that they stand before the throne of God, that they worship him, that standing before the throne of the Almighty God is the one place they want to be.
For the one who is seated on the
throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
The sun will not strike them,
Nor any scorching heart;
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
Will be their shepherd,
And he will guide them to springs of
The water of life,
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev 7:15-17)
These are they who have come through the great ordeal. Like Job they have suffered, suffered like Job did for their own faithfulness. Like Job they have suffered, and more. They hold the martyr’s palm in their hands. And they have found at the end of their suffering the throne of God, and the Lamb.
Who is Almighty God? He is this one who rises with healing in his hands.
He is this one who rises over all the world—o clap your hands, ye peoples!—who rises over all tribes and peoples and languages, to reign. God has gone up with a mighty shout! And he has nailmarks in his hands.
Look at the front of your bulletin. You see them there, the nailmarks in his risen and ascending hands, the marks of the nails in his feet. He is the one who rises with nailmarks in his hands. This is who God is. Jesus Christ is God’s answer, in these last days, to Job’s question.
Have you an arm like God? The Lord says to Job in his suffering. Have you an arm like God, who laid the foundation of the earth?…
Who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted
Have you an arm like God, who laid the foundation of the earth and now walks with you, O my people, walks among you and for you, walks with you in this your need, in this your suffering, in this your wrongdoing, even to the gates of death?
Have you an arm like God, thus pierced by the suffering of his people, thus pierced by the sin of his people, this pierced arm of God, this Christ, now rising over the world in grief and in glory? It is the Lamb who is seated at the centre of the throne, and the form of his throne is a cross.
This is who God is, this Jesus who rises with nailmarks in his hands.
The suffering of Job is his suffering, too, in the mystery of the Providence of God. And in his wounded hands, our hope. I know that my Redeemer lives. In the midst of the sin of the world, he lives. In the midst of suffering. In the place where the righteous sometimes suffer and the sinners sometimes thrive, where in our blindness we hurt and destroy, in the midst of the lying and hypocrisy and pain and corruption on God’s holy mountain, my Redeemer lives. With us and for us he lives; he rises with wounded hands. And at the last he shall stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. At the end of Job’s cry, Christ rises.
There is a great deal wrong with our world and with our church. We do that wrong, and it is done to us. In wrong, and in suffering, we are intimately involved, and it is hard to see the way. But in the midst of all that is wrong, on this day we sing. We sing Job’s song, the one who rises, who reigns with the nailmarks in his hands. In Jesus Christ God is for us and he is with us; our Accuser and our Redeemer both. In his crucified hands the wrong we have done, our capacity to turn away. In his risen hands, God’s enduring faithfulness, and our hope. How shall we be saved? Like Job, we do not know. The voice of God in these days comes chiefly in the whirlwind and in a consuming fire. When shall we be saved?
“When will Israel be restored?” the disciples ask the risen Lord. And he says, “That is not the right question. The question for you who love me is this: ‘How shall I witness?’” How shall we sing Jesus who lives, Jesus who loves, Jesus who rises with nailmarks in his hands? How shall we speak his word, that word so sweet and so straight and so challenging and so true? How shall we love him, before all the world, in this time?
Christ is risen, with nailmarks in his hands. In love and in suffering he reigns. The Lamb is seated upon the throne. And so we make our song. With our lives we make our song: Jesus is Lord. AMEN.