"Through the Church the Song Goes On"
The Ascension of Our Lord
St. Luke 24:44-53
May 17, 2007
(In loving memory of my beloved bride, Beth Ann [neé Donner] Schlamann)
44Then [Jesus] said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." 45And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.
46Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48And you are witnesses of these things."
IN NOMINE JESU
Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
Lo, the apostles' holy train
Join Thy sacred Name to hallow;
Prophets swell the glad refrain,
And the white-robed martyrs follow,
And from morn to set of sun
Through the Church the song goes on. [LSB 940:3]
The words to this ancient Latin hymn ring as true today as they did some 1,700 years ago, for there is nothing new going on here. The Lord is still serving His people, still coming to us through His Word, proclaimed from His pulpit in His Church at all times and in all places. Tonight is no exception, as the story is repeated, and the song is sung again. Today is the 40th day of Easter, and on this day the Bride of Christ celebrates her Husband's ascension into heaven, where He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, preparing a place for the members of His Bride, the Church as they are translated from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, from the Kingdom of Grace to the Kingdom of Glory, from the Church on earth to the Church in heaven. Not only does the Lord of lords and King of Kings prepare places for His people in the heavenly mansions, He also lives and reigns into all eternity, only to come again, on clouds descending, to judge both the living and the dead.
The time had come for the Lord to return from whence He came, from His Father's side in heaven. The time had come for Him to ascend into heaven, to be removed from the sight of His disciples, now apostles, that they would continue in the Lord's preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name, as He had given them charge, but only after the Holy Spirit would descend upon them at Pentecost. But what they were to preach was nothing new, for they were to preach the message the Lord Himself preached. And the preaching during the Lord's earthly ministry was also nothing new, for the pre-incarnate Christ had given His prophets the command to preach this same message before the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, His people. The preachment is six millennia old, and so, therefore, is the Church's song. The Lord has given His message to the Church, and the Church has handed down the preaching and singing of this Word ever since, even to this very day. I do not come here with a new preachment from the pulpit or with a new song to be sung, for it is through the Church that the song goes on, as well as the preachment. Therefore, we get to sing boldly the hymns our fathers in the faith sung and to hear the Word they themselves heard. We hear the Word being preached in its truth and purity, and we sing the hymns the organ plays with the great majesty and reverence these sung sermons deserve, for, even though the Lord has ascended into heaven, He is still with us, coming to us in His Word.
Yet there are those claiming to be within the pale of Christendom who would seek to do away with the growth the Lord has given His Church, as well as the means He gives for her growth. They claim that they have a new message and a new method. They seek to do away with churches of the Word and Sacraments and to replace them with dog-and-pony shows. They have fallen away from historic, yet vibrant, preaching and historic liturgy of the Church and fallen for the "Church of What's Happening Now." They have replaced the Word and Sacraments with lies and snake oil. They have claimed to be "ablaze" for the Gospel, when they in reality have sought to torch the Good News and reduce it to ashes with their generic religiosity. And we have sat idly by, giving our silent consent, even as errors have crept through our cracks and crevices. We have allowed false practices and teachings to penetrate our practices without saying a word. We have developed for ourselves a buffet-style theology, from which we pick and choose those articles of the faith we wish to believe for ourselves, but we prefer not to receive from the Lord's Table as much as we wish to pick our poisons, for a false theology is a deadly one. The Lord speaks through the writer to the Hebrews:
Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. [Heb. 13:9-16]
For such a time as this we must repent…and receive the forgiveness of sins.
And that, dear brothers and sisters in the risen Christ, is the central message of the Church: repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus' Name, the very message He commanded His apostles to preach, the same message He has charged me to preach, the true message you get to hear this Ascension Day evening as well as each Lord's Day. The Lord calls us to repentance through the preaching of the Word so that we would receive His Holy Absolution. This is why the preachment ought not to change, for the Lord's gifts do not change. Their power does not change because the Word does not change. And the Word does not change since the Lord does not change. He says, "I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob" (Mal. 3:6), and, through the writer to the Hebrews, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). As the Lord remains the same, so also the preaching remains the same. The blessed Apostle St. Paul writes, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…" (1 Cor. 11:23a). The blessed Apostle and Evangelist St. John writes,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. [1 Jn. 1:1-4]
And our joy has been made complete by the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. It is His death that we proclaim boldly, for it is in His death that we have life, and there is life in the blood—the blood of Christ, which cleanses…purifies…us from all sin. The life that is in Christ's blood is in us as His Word is being preached in our hearing. The ascended Lord has come down to us to bring us up to Himself through His Word, so that we would receive the riches of God's grace in their fullness in heaven, whether we meet the Lord when He comes again on the Last Day or when He calls us to our eternal rest, when our strife is over and our battle is done. Until that day, we have the joy of letting others know the joy that is in us—the hope that is in us—as we tell others the good news about Jesus, the same good news the people of God have been told and have been telling for centuries, so that all would repent and therefore receive the forgiveness of sins, forgiveness in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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