“I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit…” (Isaiah 57:15)
Where IS he? This is what we say when we’re waiting for someone who is supposed to be present—near us—providing something for us that we can’t provide for ourselves. It’s what the child says as they wait for the ride from their absent father. It’s what the aged grandma says as she’s waiting for the ride to the doctor from her son. It’s what the wife says as she waits for her husband to bring home the groceries vital for the evening meal. Where IS he?
The title of a devotion book I own serves up a similar question: Where in the World is God? Earthquakes ravage densely populated places, taking thousands of lives; trains go careening off railroad tracks at high speeds, killing some and wounding others; children suffer from deadly diseases, and the aged suffer even while praying to be taken to heaven. I believe in Jesus, but I do have questions… and chief among them is Where IS He?
To read the Epistle lesson from Acts 1 and the Gospel lesson, the closing words of St. Mark may leave us inclined to believe Jesus is retired: A cloud received Him out of their sight – the disciples watched as He went away from earth and into heaven (Acts 1). Forty days after Easter, His Father received Him up into heaven and seated Him at His right hand. The answer seems pretty clear, right? Jesus is far away. He did all the dirty work His Father sent Him to do—live the life we can’t and won’t, die the death we ought to die for our sins, rose again champion over sin, death, and the tomb… It seems reasonable that He would get to “kick up His feet,” so to speak. He has done all things well—and now He gets to rest comfortably, off the grid in Savior-retirement… That, after all, is how we know things, how we see and experience human life to go…
This is how the Lord (before He becomes human flesh and blood—Jesus) speaks:
“I dwell in the high and holy place…”
And according to these plain words and standard physics, that settles the matter—Jesus is there, high up. He set apart and we are here in the “middle of it,” where the devil roams and taunts, where the world rages against us, where our own flesh wars against faith and a life of faith.
But the Lord doesn’t leave this truth about Jesus and His location where sound physics must leave it. Our Lord says:
“I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit…”
Where you and I say with exasperation, “I can’t be two places at once!” the Lord of heaven and earth not only says, “I can” but “I am!”
The contrite (broken) spirit is the one who knows that their body and life has been a body of “sin and death,” as St. Paul confesses. The humble spirit hears “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” and longs for such perfection, all the while knowing their hunger for such goodness means they haven’t, can’t, and won’t produce it for themselves.
The Jesus whose risen and ascended body occupies the high and holy place of heaven is also with such spirits. Are you one whose life is marked by every version of sin and immeasurable amounts of guilt? Be assured by Jesus, the “high and holy,” that He is also with you. Are you one who loves the goodness and perfection God prescribes but recognizes how absent such goodness and perfection is in your mind, your hands, your tongue? High and holy Jesus is with your humbled spirit, too.
The Gospel gift of the Lord’s Supper is perhaps the most poignant and lasting proof of this great and gracious mystery. The Son of God who reigns and rules with His Father also revives and restores the heart and conscience broken by sin and guilt. The communion hymn (written by T.H. Kingo but translated from the Danish by my dear grandfather) speaks most beautifully to this ascension Gospel:
In heav’nly gladness dwells our Head,
Yet is He here in this blest bread.
There dwells He in His pow’r divine,
Yet gives Himself in this blest wine.
How this can be, I do not know
He has not willed the way to show;
Such streams my reason ought not ford;
I only need to trust His Word.
Our ungodly, frail, and limited bodies must choose to be here or there. The One called Jesus is the Promised One—God in the flesh. Ascended Jesus who is at His Father’s right hand ruling and reigning is also here with you and me, and with this power of who and what He is and the work done in His living and dying and rising, He is with us to revive Us—to give His Life to our ungodly, frail bodies, and to give His resurrection to our wilting spirits that we might live.
Rev. Kyle Madson