"No colors anymore, I want them to turn black" sang the Rolling Stones in 1966. In 2008 Jamie Johnson sang the opposite, "You should've seen it in color." He's reflecting how the WW II generation, for the most part, had their lives recorded in black and white but the joys and sorrows were in color to them. The events in Christ's life that we celebrate year in and year out can fade to black. We need them in color.
See the nail holes on Jesus' hands in color. The text draws your attention to them. It says, "Jesus lifted up His hand and blessed them." We know from the upper room incidents what's in those hands. Nail holes from nine-inch iron nails. And we know what they mean.
First, those visible nail holes mean Jesus was actually crucified as He prophesied. Jesus was actually put to death for our sins and not only ours but the whole world's. The Jesus who even His enemies could find nothing to accuse Him of, the Jesus with whom God the Father proclaimed He was well-pleased, perfect Jesus was put to death for a sinner such as I.
Second, those visible nail holes on a living Jesus mean that God the Father has accepted His payment for all sins and sinners, none excepted, none left out, none left over. Paid in full. The only reason the perfect Jesus died, gave up His life, was to pay for sins. Having accomplished that, Death had no more claim on Him.
Those nail holes have now colored from black and white to sepia, but they're not yet in color. Where are those nail holes going? "Up to heaven." Into the very Cloudy Presence of God that veils heaven and the almighty from the eyes of man. Those nail holes and the Man bearing them are going to the right hand of God, far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that can be named. There God has placed all things under His feet which, by the way, also have nail holes.
You're still not seeing the nail holes in color, so let me tell you a story. President Andrew Jackson was going to sack a postmaster because he supported Jackson's opponent in the election. The postmaster confronted Jackson. As he protested, he began to take off his clothes. Jackson was shocked and asked what he was doing. The postmaster said he was showing the wounds he received while fighting the British. The image of the scarred old man haunted Jackson all night. The next morning when an aid began making the case for the sacking, "Jackson sprang to his feet, flung his pipe into the fire,' and virtually roared'By the Eternal! I will not remove that old man I cannot remove him. Whydo you know that he carries more than a pound of British lead in his body" (American Lion, 84).
The nails holes are in color now. If the wounds of a stranger moved Jackson so, how much more do the wounds the Beloved Son suffered on your behalf move the heavenly Father?
The nail holes are in color, not ugly, not off-putting, but in beauty glorified. We still need colored-in what it means to have God in heaven above on your side. Some people get bothered when Scripture speaks of heaven above and earth below. They think Scripture is stuck in some prehistoric, unscientific age with a flat earth between above and below. Scripture plainly says Jesus was "taken up" and He is "far above." Yet it's also true space is a created thing. However, the Ascension's upward movement on our senses is needed. If Jesus had disappeared into the Earth a wholly different faith would have resulted (Lewis, Miracles, 258).
So, up, up and away Jesus goes, not in a beautiful balloon but in the flesh and blood He received in the Virgin's womb. And while Jesus is not received into a physical space, Scripture wants you to picture it as "far above" everything else. Scripture wants you to think of the Man Jesus having a bird's eye view of all things.
An apologists, and I can't remember which, makes use of this imagery to illustrate God's omniscience. Imagine lines drawn on a paper, a huge paper, millions upon millions of lines. God is so far above all these lines that He can see which line will intersect which when. And God in Christ is so close, think of the super zoomed in Google Map view, that He can see the details of every intersection.
So what? I'll tell you what. We haven't seen what this means in color. If we had, we would have connected what the apostles did. Notice their response to being left by Jesus and His being taken up to heaven. "Then they worshipped Him," and "they stayed continually at the temple (i.e. they went to church) praising God." The Man Jesus is their God. The Man Jesus is the object of their worship and praise. They are in the hands of the God who has nail holes in His hands and who sees all things.
See this in color. This happened to me. Walking toward me on a sidewalk, I could see at a distance a blind man with his seeing-eye dog. The man was walking on the inside of the sidewalk so the traffic was away from him. The dog was hugging the inside edge too. I was walking toward them on my right, his left, so we were coming head on. The dog sees me at a distance; the man not at all. I see the dog putting pressure on the man's leg to angle him toward the other side of the sidewalk so we could pass. The blind man has no idea why the dog did this but he angles right. The dog saw what had to be done for his master and orchestrated everything to his benefit.
See the ascended Jesus far above in color. If a seeing-eye dog is smart enough, sees enough, and cares enough to do that for his master, how much more so does our Ascended Master see, protect, and guide His sheep for our benefit? Do you actually think we see all that is going on in our life? We no more see what is coming our way, what good or evil, happy or sad is going to intersect with our lives, than a blind man does, but our Ascended Lord does, and He guides us at least as faithfully and gently as a dog.
I'm afraid the Baby Boomers are the last to be able to have this next delight. You're paging through your parents' photos; the ones you've come to expect to be in black and white, and pop: there's one in color. I believe at the time the colors were painted in, but it is eye-popping. I know I haven't seen the Ascension in color yet because the Holy Spirit tells me the apostles return from their Friend, their Shepherd, their Savior, their Lord being taken visibly from them not only with joy but with great joy? This is contrary to my experience which agrees with C.S. Lewis' observation: "Seeing people off is always folly. It's neither good mirth nor good sorrow" (Miracles, 258). But this parting is not sorrowful at all, and it's more than good mirth' it's "great joy." What gives?
It's not a what that gives, but a who, and the Giver is God. Listen to the ancient Proper Preface. It praises the Almighty Father for taking up to heaven Jesus "that He might make us partakers of His divine nature." This is the hope that Paul in the Epistle reading says you've been called to. This is the riches of the glorious inheritance he mentions. And the best that you're hoping for is to die in your sleep and go to heaven. And the best that is yet to come you think is harp playing in heaven for 10,000 years. No, in the Ascension, that happened almost 2000 years ago, all those baptized into Christ went where He went into the very throne room of heaven to become partakers of His divine nature.
No wonder we're sad here, lonely here. No wonder we feel like strangers here; heaven is our home. I remember one fall and winter in Michigan a hurt duck stayed at our feeder, and it was like you see in a Disney movie. In the Fall when flocks passed over, it would flap its wings and stretch it's neck heavenward, but go nowhere. That's us. The things of the Divine call us, pull us heavenward away from this ground we're tied to. We long to be in heaven in that untroubled sphere. We were created for better things than the best that is here.
Well, even if that's so, that doesn't explain why the apostles returned from the Ascension with great joy. They were still here, weren't they? What you're forgetting is that things have been building to the Ascension. Jesus had said in the upper room it's good that I go away for if I don't go the Holy Spirit will not come. And on Easter morning, He promises Mary Magdalene that once He has ascended she will be able to hold on to Him all the time. As long as Jesus walked the earth, He was at one place at one time. Once the Man Jesus ascends to heaven, He is everywhere all at once. Jesus along with all His forgiveness, life, and salvation is in every drop of Baptismal water on your body, in every syllable of Absolution in your ear, in every grain of His body and every wine drop of His blood in your mouth in Holy Communion!
Still not in color? How it is for us and the ascended Jesus is like how C. S. Lewis said it was for him and his recently deceased wife. He says that he found his dead wife everywhere now. It was as if she had ceased to meet him in a particular place in order to meet him everywhere (Grief Observed, 148).
That's a haunting; that's not a good thing, and it wasn't a great joy to him. The Ascension is a great joy because your God, Savior, Lord, Friend is now everywhere. Yes, He is far away in heaven with a bird's eye view where He and His vivid nail holes are ever praying on your behalf and working things out gently. But He is also as close to you as that pew. That's why He can promise, "Before you call I will answer; while you are yet speaking, I will hear." The Jesus who had willingly given up the full use of His divine powers as man, now uses them in full as a Man for your benefit everywhere.
Movies can show things in black and white and things in color at the same time. May you return from the Ascension with Sin, Death, and the Devil in black and white and the Ascended Jesus, nail holes and all, in living color, and you, colored joyful. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Ascension of our Lord (20170528); Luke 24: 50-53