Sermon for Ascension Thursday May 13th, 2021
I spend a lot of time giving lawyers grief from the pulpit, so I figured I should probably take a moment and show them a little love for a change. They aren’t all bad you know. In fact, as I said a few weeks ago, if you find yourself in trouble, you want a good lawyer on your side. They are there to help you get out of the mess that you have gotten yourself into. They are your advocate. In French the word for lawyer, avocat, makes this very clear. It’s also the exact same word for avocado though, so you do need to be careful. There is something very powerful, very special about being an advocate for someone else. Anyone can plead for themselves, or advocate for themselves, but to intercede on someone else’s behalf, well there is something special about that act. It is an act of love. And likewise, to have someone intercede for you or advocate for you, that is a special feeling, it is like feeling loved.
So if we push the jokes aside for just a moment; if we stop thinking of lawyers as just those people that make everyone’s lives more difficult, and think of them instead as advocates, then we may begin to see how God could have a use for them. In fact, when lawyers are living into their calling as advocates, it is in those moments, however rare they may be, it is in those moments that lawyers are almost as good as priests. Because advocating for others or interceding for others is a fundamental part of a priest’s job too. It is just a different judge that we stand before to make our plea.
One of my jobs as a priest, one of the most important parts of my job, is intercessory prayer: holding before God the needs, and fears and hopes of this congregation and this community. Now other than the little bit you witness on Sunday mornings, it is a part of my job that most people don’t see. But it isn’t like an optional extra part of the job that I do if I get around to it, or if I have time after sorting everything else out, it is the job. Praying for, or advocating for God’s people is a main part of the job of being a priest. You wouldn’t hire a lawyer who’s afraid of talking to a judge; you shouldn’t hire a priest that’s afraid of talking to God.
Now imagine, if you can, imagine having a really good priest. I don’t mean some poor slob that you pay to mumble incoherently in the front of the church from time to time. Imagine that you have a priest that not only knows your name, but also knows your greatest fears, your weaknesses, your loves, your struggles. Imagine a priest that knows all your sins and still forgives you. Imagine a priest, who like a good lawyer, knows you are guilty, and still asks the judge to let you off. Imagine a priest who is never impatient and never incompetent, who never gets tired. Imagine a priest who is praying for things for you that you never asked for. Imagine a priest who’s entire life is one of constant prayer and intercession and advocacy, and now imagine that this priest isn’t just praying in a pew, or in an office, or in an armchair, but is actually praying and pleading for you in the very presence of God.
What if this priest actually held up to God your broken aching body, or even your broken heart, and pleaded for you before God?
We don’t have to imagine having this priest. This is the priest we have. Today is the Feast of the Ascension, our feast of title as a parish, and the day when we remember Jesus, our great high priest, ascending into heaven, entering into the very presence of God. Jesus isn’t flying into a cloud to escape from his disciples, he isn’t going on vacation. He’s going to work. Jesus is entering into God’s throne room to be an eternal advocate for his people; to constantly intercede for them in ways that no earthly priest could ever do.
Jesus doesn’t leave us today. He takes our case to God. Jesus goes to the father to plead our case and when he goes, he goes in the flesh. Our flesh. He doesn’t leave his body behind like some empty vessel, he carries it to God too. The disciples rejoiced when Jesus ascended to the father, they rejoiced, because now they knew they had an advocate with the father, standing right before the throne. The author of the book of Hebrews writes:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Basically, the author of Hebrews is saying that with Jesus on our side we can walk into the courtroom like we have the best lawyer in the place. We can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. And not just confidence, but thankfulness, because unlike most lawyers, Jesus isn’t going to send you a bill when it’s all over. As the old hymn goes…Jesus paid it all.
We have an advocate in heaven. Jesus, our great high priest, our only mediator and advocate; that is why we can rejoice today. That is why the disciples rejoiced. Long ago we humans got ourselves into trouble, the evidence of that is all around us. But the Son of God has come to get us out of it. God’s only son is advocating for us, he is doing it directly before the throne of God, and he is doing it in the very human flesh that his mother gave him. That is what the Ascension is really about; not flying off into clouds and heaven over our heads. The Feast of the Ascension is about recognizing Jesus’s eternal role as our advocate in God’s holy realm. That is reason to rejoice.
So we give praise to God tonight for our Lord’s ascension, and we also remember that advocating for others is a part of our Christian duty. It is imitating the behaviour of Christ himself. You don’t need to be a lawyer or a priest to do this. Part of our belief in the priesthood of all believers is that we all, as Christians, have a calling to intercede for, and advocate for, others. Not just before the powers and principalities of this world, but also before the throne of God. We are called, day in and day out, to be people who intercede for the world; who pray for the needs and concerns of others. That is a part of our job as Christians, not just those of us who do this for a living, but all of us. We are all called, in big ways and in small ways, to be advocates.
And we can do this with boldness as Christians. You can’t always trust the lawyers and the priests in this world, sometimes they are crooked, they might overcharge you and they don’t always win; but we can have supreme faith and confidence in our advocate in heaven. Why? Because we know something else. We know that when that gavel comes down and the verdict and the sentence are read out, we know that when that day comes, the man that has spent his life advocating for us and pleading our case at his own great expense, we know that that man, Jesus, isn’t just going to be our advocate, he’s also going to be the judge.