But there's more! Our ascended Lord...
- prays for us at all times. "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25)
- gives us spiritual gifts to make us more like him and to do his work. "When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men...And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ..." (From Ephesians 4:1-16, assigned for Ascension Day Morning Prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer).
Now, it is important that would-be Northern Plains Anglicans go to the Ascended Lord, Jesus Christ, to receive these precious gifts. The Episcopal Church has lost them. The proof of that?
- The gifts should "perfect the saints" - but ungodly lifestyles and behaviours proliferate among ordained leaders as well as lay people. Confirmations and baptisms are fewer all the time, and many baptisms are "drive by" affairs without any spiritual preparation or follow up.
- The gifts should foster "the work of ministry" - but Episcopal churches on the Plains are shrinking. They are not bringing new people to faith in Jesus Christ, they are not impacting their communities for the kingdom of God, and they worry about their own survival and comfort rather than the lost souls all around them.
- The gifts should "edify" (build up) the church, which is Christ's body on earth. But the Episcopal Church as a whole is in "systemic decline" with "incoherent leadership" (these are admissions made by its own New York headquarters). The Diocese of South Dakota has lost more than 20% of its reported members over the last two decades, and Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) is only about 2,500 for the whole state.
The Feast of the Ascension is easy to overlook - it is 40 days after Easter, which always falls on a Thursday (not prime time for church!) But this celebration tells us that Jesus Christ lives for us and blesses us now, if we will pay attention to his word and come to him in faith. We need more Northern Plains Anglicans to take up his gifts. He warns us,
"For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:29-30)
Jesus Christ is praying to our Heavenly Father for all of us right now. And he is giving us gifts through the Holy Spirit at work in us right now. Let us take up the treasure and use it in his service.