A summer rain is usually a welcome relief from the sun's heat, and a refreshing shower for thirsty land. I think that there are fewer smells sweeter than the fragrance that arises from a freshly rain-soaked earth. A rain shower is just one way God blesses the land and His people.
Of course, there are times when floods come bringing destruction to the land, and no little grief to the people. But this, too, is all in God's timing. Floods and other natural disasters have a cleansing effect upon the earth. They are God's way of showing His mighty power over all Creation. By such calamities God disciplines the people of the earth, reminding us that He is in control and that we are dependent upon Him for all things.
Showers of rain or damaging floods always serve God's purposes. They are even means of praise to God for His power and presence as Psalm 148:7-8 says:
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding...
Although God may use such means to bring destruction, still He can renew the earth again, as Psalm 104:27-30 reminds us:
[All creatures] look to you to give them their food at the proper time…When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
There is an interesting comparison here with the Ascension of our Lord Jesus. When Christ ascended to heaven, His hands extended in blessing, He took His place at God's right hand to rule heaven and earth. He exercises this rule in two ways: First, He rules the universe with His almighty power, binding all things together with His omnipotent word. And secondly, He rules His Church with refreshing grace, binding us together by His Holy Spirit. In the end, all of humanity must acknowledge Christ's rule whether we want to or not. Which means that this confession of Christ's rule will either be a hard-hearted acknowledgment of Christ from the rubble of destruction, or it will be a sweet-smelling fragrance of thanksgiving to God for all the blessings that He showers on us through Christ.
The Ascension of Christ Jesus is a most important matter for our faith. It marks the beginning of His rule as the Incarnate King who sits upon the throne of David forever. Jesus entered heaven and sits at the Right Hand of the Father. This is not merely an honorary title, but the filling of heaven and earth whereby He controls all things and is present in all places. The one, undivided Christ exercises His omnipresent and omnipotent rule even in the flesh. This is the meaning of St. Paul's words in Ephesians 4:10, where he says that Christ Jesus “ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.”
This Ascension of our Lord means blessing for the entire Church—both in heaven and on earth. For the Church in glory, those saints who have gone on ahead into heaven, they are before the risen and ascended Lord face-to-face. They now see Him as He truly is, beholding the vision of His loveliness in unspeakable joy.
We, however, the Church fighting here on earth, still await that heavenly glory. Yet we are not without our blessings, for Christ rules over all things—in the world and in the Church—for our benefit. Yes, Christ rules the world with His power so that the Church may be built up. One theologian put it this way: “The kingdoms of this world are ‘the scaffolding used in the building of the Church.’” (Pieper, Dogmatics, Book II, p. 387). And although it seems at times that the world has the upper hand, nothing happens in this world that Christ doesn't use for some benefit of building up His Church.
But secondly, and of more importance for us today, Christ also rules His Church for the same purposes. Only here He rules by His Word of Grace—the Gospel. Apart from this Gospel, with its message of forgiveness and love, there is no kindly and kingly rule of Christ. There is only the burdensome rule of law “by which no man is justified,” as the Bible teaches.
In our lessons for today, we hear about two specific blessings which the Ascended Christ showers upon His Church, and which are the greatest of all blessings. One is the Gospel that is proclaimed in the Teachings of Christ's Apostles. The second is the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the Church.
The first blessing that Christ showers upon us is the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament that Christ gave to His Apostles by which the Church is ruled. Jesus said to His Apostles in Mark 16:
Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned…And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
With these words Jesus summarized the heart of the Christian message the Apostles were to preach and teach, and to which all Christians are devoted. This Gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins is that message of grace and righteousness in Christ by which all men and women may find life with God! It is a Gospel still proclaimed in the Church’s Ministry of Word and Sacrament today.
The second blessing which our Ascended Lord showers upon His Church we heard about in the second lesson from Acts 1. That blessing is the Holy Spirit. He is the “promise of the Father,” foretold by the prophet Joel, and whom Christ promised His Disciples that He would send. The Holy Spirit poured out upon the Church at Pentecost, received by every Christian in Baptism, and renewed through Word and Sacraments, has called and gathered us into fellowship with God. He also “keeps us in the one, true faith with Christ, our Lord.” There is no greater blessing that we could ever imagine than that of the Holy Spirit who is like a refreshing spring shower to our souls.
Yes, we have been showered with many blessings from the Ascended Christ. He rules the universe for the good of His Church. He rules His Church by the grace of His Word given through the Apostles. He bestows upon us His life-giving, sin-forgiving Gospel. He pours out His Spirit richly so that we may come to Christ, believe in Him, and live for Him. And showered with so many and great blessings, how can we do otherwise than to offer up the sweet-aroma of thanksgiving to God through Christ Jesus, the Crucified, Resurrected, and Ascended Savior!