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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

16 May 2012

Ascension RSVP

Don’t Forfeit Your Banquet Invitation

Join the Banquet
What if you held a feast and no one came? Jesus dealt with this in the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). He told of a rich man who “invited many” but kept hearing excuses. Dismayed with the responses of his friends and acquaintances, the man had his servants invite “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” but there was “still room.” So he sent them out again to compel strangers to join the party and declared that no one who’d first declined would be able to attend.

In the Christian calendar, Ascension Day reminds me of the Great Banquet. Traditionally one of the major feast days, it celebrates our Lord returning to His Father on the fortieth day of Easter. This year, it falls on 17 May. Jesus ascended to His heavenly home because His earthly work was complete. He lived a perfect life and died an innocent victim in order to pay for mankind’s sins. He left that He might gift His disciples and the Church with the Holy Spirit. He also ascended so that He might “go to prepare a place for” believers (John 14:2).

After telling the Twelve why He would soon depart, He then said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (v. 3)” This promise is ours, also, and is why the Church so highly regarded the Feast of the Ascension. It was Jesus’ final earthly deed before He returns bodily to end the world, judge the nations, and bring the faithful to eternal life.

Our Host joyfully awaits the guests He has invited to the eternal feast, “the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:9)” We are not wealthy enough in righteousness and good works to merit an invitation. Instead, we are the spiritually “poor and crippled and blind and lame” who deserve nothing yet are promised all good things. He only asks us to trust His words and, with His blessing, to love others as He loves us as we live out our vocations.

Perhaps our inattention to the Ascension is a sign of the busy-ness of our lives. Our calendars are filled to overflowing and it seems difficult to carve out the time for worship on this one special Thursday each Spring. Perhaps we also downplay Ascension because it doesn’t have the cute Baby, sweet mother, shepherds, angels, and all the trappings of Christmas and because it lacks the deep valley and spectacular peak of Holy Week and Easter.

However, Ascension Day may also slip by because we are too grounded in things earthly. Family and friends, business and agriculture, labor and leisure — these are all wonderful blessings from God. Yet they pale before the Father’s Gift of Jesus and the Son’s wonderful gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal. But we cannot see, taste, or touch them in the same manner as we do the people and things surrounding us and if we aren’t constant in the Word and attentive to His promises, these greater gifts become distant and less important to us.

Is it necessary that congregations hold special Ascension services? No.

If they do, is it imperative that we drop everything to attend? Of course not!

Paul wrote the Colossian Christians, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (2:16)” However, when holy days are regularly overlooked, it becomes much easier for us to forget the reasons why the celebrations first began.

Returning to the Parable of the Great Banquet, we see how easy it is for sinners to forget the enormity of the debt Christ paid, the fullness of His forgiveness, and the certainty of our salvation. When asked to stop our day-to-day tasks, to step away from things that provide brief earthly pleasure or diversion, and to specially prepare for a special day, we’re tempted to compose our own list of excuses. We might be pastors who don’t want to prepare an extra sermon and service. We could be parishioners who want to come home from work and relax, farmers who want to plant a few more acres, or parents who’ve already planned to drive our children to their regularly scheduled athletic activities. Each of us finds ways to say, “Sorry, Jesus, I’m a little to busy right now.”

I say this not to drive you to church but to invite you to always remember the Lamb’s Feast. We won’t fully participate until the Last Day dawns but already we have a foretaste as we gather to hear the Word and eat His Supper here on earth. Why celebrate Christ’s Ascension? Because it reminds us of — and guarantees to us — His return! For even as Paul challenged narrow, legalistic demands that all Christians worship at the same set times, He also reminded those same Colossians, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (3:2)”

Remembering the Feast of the Ascension, particularly attending church that day, is one way to turn our eyes away from things earthly, to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” and to focus on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)”

I pray that whether at home or in the house of the Lord, you remember why He came, where He has gone, and whom He will invite to join Him in the never ending banquet He has established.

The line drawing is © 2004 by Ed Riojas and part of a collection available for purchase through the Higher Things Store.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.

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Based on my article from The Concordian of 16 May AD 2012.


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