When I served as a missionary, I traveled frequently and often missed my children’s birthdays. When I did, I brought home a gift for them from my travels. This left my children in a dilemma: They wanted me home for their birthdays, but they also appreciated the unique gifts.
My eldest daughter preferred the gifts. It only took a dress from India for me to find myself in the unique position of being encouraged by her to travel over her birthday. She had decided she benefited more from my absence than my physical presence.
The disciples faced a different dilemma. Jesus said to them, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The disciples became sorrowful over Jesus’ impending departure, and yet, His departure was necessary. The gift of the Holy Spirit, which the disciples did not yet fully understand, would not be given so long as Jesus remained with them.
There are many differences between your father traveling for work and Jesus’ ascension. One of the major differences is that Jesus’ ascension does not mark His absence. He promised the disciples in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” His ascension (Luke 24:50–53 and Acts 1:6–11) does not mark His absence, therefore, but His presence among the disciples and the church in a different way. He would now be present with them through the Means of Grace, that is, the Word and Sacraments.
Christ’s ascension marks the transition from His earthly presence to His session at the right hand of God. “Session” refers to Jesus’ sitting at the right hand of the throne of God. Your child might wait for his session in the principal’s office, or you might have attended a session at a conference during which you sat and listened to someone speak. In a much greater way, our Lord Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the throne of God, and from this position of power directs all things for the good of His Bride, the church.
The church fittingly celebrates this event with all joy. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who retains our flesh and blood, sits at the right hand of the throne of God and directs all things for our good. Therefore, not only will you find instruction in this issue on the ascension and what it means for you as Christians, but also how to recover and celebrate this great feast in your own congregation. As many people have often missed this great feast, we also included a sermon so that you might find comfort in Christ’s session at the right hand of God.
Together with you in Christ,
Roy S. Askins
Managing Editor, The Lutheran Witness