EPISTLE—Acts I. 1.
G0SPEL—St. Mark. XVI. 14.
EAD Epistle and Gospel, and also Luke xxiv. 50, etc.
Out of all combined teach the Ascension story. Read the
Lesson Acts i. Aim at exciting awe, wonder, reverence.
Try to influence this generation of Church children with the importance of keeping Ascension Day. See in Commission office how the Church has placed it on a par with the four great Festivals, giving it a "Proper Preface" for itself. We need a great improvement in this matter. The result of this neglect is a growing haziness and almost doubt about this great fact of the Ascension.
In the past six weeks the Church has commemorated two of the most important events in the life of our Lord—Calvary and the Resurrection. After the Resurrection something else must happen. The Ascension. Why? Because if the Lord did not go back into heaven, then He must be here in bodily presence which He is not, or He must have grown old and weak and died again, like any ordinary man, which would be a very poor ending for His wonderful life. Therefore we are quite prepared to hear of Ascension. We should be quite puzzled at the whole story of Christ if no Ascension.
Now see the story in Epistle and Gospel for day. Read also Luke xxiv. 50. St. Luke had, perhaps, learned more about Ascension when he wrote Acts. Picture scene. A little band of twelve men moving through suburbs of Jerusalem to the Bethany road over the lower slopes of Mount of Olives. Ever been on that road before? Tell me of any occasions? Yes. Very tender associations. He had often walked wearily there, looking forward to friendly greetings in somebody's house at Bethany. Whose? There the disciples had gone with Him when Lazarus raised. They would remember that now. But more solemn and sad memories. They cross over Kedron again. When before? They walk near Gethsemane, where He had struggled in His awful agony, and where they all forsook Him and fled. What a strange walk, never to be forgotten, would be this last walk with the Lord! What a remembrance in after days that scene on the mountain top! There He stood in His mysterious Resurrection body, listening patiently to their questions about the times and the seasons, and directing them about their great missionary work "to the uttermost part of the earth." There the most wonderful thing in the world's history was about to take place. Did the world take any notice? No. Not even Jerusalem, which lay so near. Herod and Pontius Pilate and the priests and the busy merchants were all about their own work, and took no notice. Angels would be watching eagerly for the return of the Lord to heaven, but the world then, as now, did not trouble much about Him.
Ah! the world had not been kind to Him! He had lived a life that seemed so certain to win love; but they would not love Him, they preferred a murderer to Him. Even the little group who stood round Him now to say good-bye—had they been kind to Him? Peter who denied—Thomas who doubted—the rest who forsook Him. But did He remember and remind them of their faults just now? Ah, no! The cross and the desertion and the ingratitude had not embittered Him in the least. In loving, tender farewell He lifted up His hands and blessed them. And while He blessed them what happened? (Luke xxiv. 51). Is it not a pleasant thought, the last sight men ever saw of Christ was while His lips were uttering words of love and His hands were stretched out in blessing? Did you ever go to see off at boat or train some relative or close friend? Would you not remember how they looked when saying good-bye? Always think about the last view of the Lord saying good-bye. It was "just like Him," as we say. Just like all His life of kindness and love.
Did they see Him go up into heaven? What hindered? (Acts i. 9). They could not see up. Could He still see down? Do you think He was still blessing? So to-day that cloud between us. Can we see Him? Can He see us? Do you think He cares what we are doing? Do you think He is blessing us still?
How startled the Apostles were—staring up wonderingly, longingly. Perhaps they wanted to go too, or wanted Him to come back to them. Who spoke to them? Perhaps the two angels that had been in tomb. Perhaps "two men," Moses and Elias, who in shining apparel had come to Him before. When? (Mark ix. 4). What did they say? Was it wrong to be looking—longing after Christ? No; better if we looked and longed more. Why blame them? Because Christ had left them plenty of work to do for Him, and they were to go and busy themselves about it (v. 8), and not be merely sentimentalizing. What was the promise they gave? When shall He so come? Second Advent. In like manner—what manner? Blessing His people. He went away to heaven blessing His disciples, and He will come back blessing them. And meantime? Still blessing. Do we look forward to this coming? Gentleman left his boy in a great crush at East India House, promising to come back for him. In the hurry of business he forgot him until evening. Rushed back in great fright. Boy standing wearily where he had left him. "I knew you would come back, father; you said you would."
Will His coming be a joy and blessing to everybody? Why not? What an awful thing if we missed His blessing. "We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge; we therefore pray Thee," etc. (Te Deum).
Now think what the Ascension has gained for us. Here is the great Victor, the fierce conflict over, going to receive His crown. Ancient victors in their processions scattered gifts among the crowd. So the Lord, victorious now. How pleasant to Him to think of how He had borne the Temptation, the Agony, the Cross, all for men. So shall we feel whenever we have conquered temptation for His sake. Now the resistless Victor returning to be crowned. "Highly exalted, and given a name above every name." "Captain of our salvation." "Head over all things to His Church." Scattering His glorious gifts. (Read Psalms lxviii. 18.) "Ascended on high, received gifts for men; yea, even for the rebellious." What gifts? (1) The gift of salvation for every poor sinner who comes unto God through Him. (2) The gift of Immortality, and the assurance of it through seeing Him rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. (3) The gift of His eternal Presence. Seems a strange thing to say when He was going away. Yet true. His presence no longer confined to one place at one time, He was again to be Omnipresent, pervading all creation. Illustrate—lamp on ground in a crowd only gives light to a few. When lifted up high it shines on all. (4) The gift of the Holy Ghost. (See Acts ii. 33.) "He hath shed forth this." For some mysterious reason while He was here in bodily form the Holy Ghost could not come. "But if I depart, I will send Him unto you." See the startling difference. The first sermon after Pentecost made more converts than the Lord's whole life on earth. A marvellous electrical power was over all. Who sent Holy Ghost, the Comforter, to put life into the Church, to rouse good thoughts. to help us towards God?
"Whose gentle voice we hear,
Soft as the breath of even;
That checks each fault, that calms each fear,
And speaks of heaven."
What great festival celebrates the coming of Holy Ghost? When will it be? We have been trying to sympathize with our Lord in His sufferings for us, in the glory of His self-sacrifice. Now let us sympathize with Him in His victory and His joy. Let us lift up our hearts to Him gratefully to the heaven where He is gone, and pray that we may in heart and mind thither ascend, and with Him continually dwell (Collect for Ascension Day).