Sunday after Ascension (Psalm 68:1–10)

We long for the end, for God to display His victory over His enemies. The Psalm we spoke earlier brings to mind pictures of God triumphantly establishing His Kingdom, driving out the Devil more and more, and bringing the righteous to shine and become stronger each day.

  God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him!

 As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away;
as wax melts before fire,
so the wicked shall perish before God!

But the righteous shall be glad;
they shall exult before God;
they shall be jubilant with joy!

But what we experience right now is more like what Peter describes: 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”…insult…suffering…being humbled and anxious.

It’s not what we want, but what we find is weakness.  So what does that say about Christ’s triumph and His ascension?  What now, while Jesus has left the world, and we are still in the world?  It means that though we wish God would display more of His victory, show more of His triumph in His saints, what we see now is not what will be.

In the Epistle on Ascension Day, St. Paul prayed that the “Father of Glory may give you the Spirit of wisdom…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” (Eph 1:17-18)  What do the eyes in our head tell us right now?  The country’s in a terrible position and sliding downhill, people are scared to be around each other, there’s anger, disappointment, and fear about what’s being billed as a “new normal” all over one virus.  There’s a tug of war between churches and governments, with people picking sides and congregation members torn between a concern for safety and their desire to come together again, grateful for worship over distance but realizing it’s a thin substitute.  Pastors trying their best to minister to whole congregations of shut-ins, but finding that there aren’t enough hours in the day to give them the care he wants.

But what do the eyes of our enlightened hearts see?  St. Peter brings it into focus through the cross of Christ:

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

This is not a “new normal”; it’s the way it always has been and will be until the Last.  The trials and sufferings only take on different outward forms, but they are always with us.  These are not strange disasters that beckon us to throw everything we’ve learned aside and react to this latest shock.  But, that’s the way our natural eyes see trials, and we want to rid ourselves of the discomfort as quickly as possible.

The eyes of faith, on the other hand, see that Jesus never really left His Church when He ascended into heaven.  He shares in our sufferings, and we share in His.  He is no stranger to our suffering, and we are most certainly heirs of His resurrection.  In this world of pain and weakness is God Himself is caring for us:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Our comfort is that Jesus prays for us.  And when He prays, it happens.  Just as when all things were made through Him, when He speaks, it comes to pass.  When we look naturally at how things are, we see impossibilities, failures, and no way through.  That’s humanly speaking—and where there might be a lot we can do—that’s not the heart of belonging to Jesus.  Jesus is glorified in His people, even as we are in the world.  God does not promise to keep us from trouble and pain, but to keep us in His Name; to keep us in the bedrock gifts of our Baptism.

So while being in His Name doesn’t mean the overt victory we wish it would sometimes, no matter what may pass, we have the sure power of God our Savior upon which to rest.  Rejoice in trials, blessing in insult, glory in suffering for Christ—this is what life with the Name of God looks like.  This is what your life is regardless of what’s happening in the world this moment, because inheritance God gives you with His Name is eternal.

We face the fiery trials with a God-given peace, and remember the instructions of Peter:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.