(Apologies this post is a couple of days late–very busy week the last week!)
Revised Common Lectionary
Ascension of the Lord: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11
Narrative Lectionary: Hope of Resurrection, Romans 6:1-14 (Matthew 6:24)
The Ascension of the Lord is observed ten days before Pentecost, so this year on May 18th. It is an additional choice for this Sunday’s readings.
We begin with the beginning of Acts, written by the author of Luke, who summarizes what they wrote in the Gospel according to Luke and begins with the ascension, whereas the Gospel according to Luke ends with the ascension. Jesus instructs the disciples to remain near Jerusalem, for as they were baptized by water, soon they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit. At this point, some of Jesus’s disciples ask him if this is when the kingdom of Israel will be restored. Some of the disciples still have a worldly understanding of a kingdom like David’s. Jesus reminds them this is not something for them to know; instead, what they will know is the work of the Holy Spirit among them. Jesus is preparing them for living into God’s reign on earth, rather than a worldly reign, and this kingdom is through the Holy Spirit, not a worldly throne. As Jesus literally ascends into the clouds, two angels (perhaps the two from the tomb?) ask the disciples why they are standing around and looking up? Jesus will return the same way he left—unexpectedly. Since we can’t know the time or what exactly God will do, we are not to be passive in our waiting, but active, knowing the Holy Spirit will do so much more than we can imagine through us.
Psalm 47 is a song of praise to God who is the God of all people, ruler of all nations. God chose to be the people’s God through their ancestors, but all nations and all peoples will know God, the one who rules over all. The psalmist calls upon the people to praise God, for God is exalted above the whole earth.
An alternative psalm reading is Psalm 93, another song of praise to God who is sovereign over all. God’s reign is established from of old and all the earth, even the floodwaters, roar their praise to God. All praise belongs to God, for God’s holiness endures forever.
The writer of Ephesians, purporting to be Paul, writes in 1:15-23 of the faithfulness of the people of Ephesus and prays that they will have a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know Jesus Christ. God’s immeasurable power and greatness has been put to work in Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead, who has authority over all things, and is the head of the body—the church—and the church is the fullness of Christ on earth.
The account of the ascension at the end of Luke’s Gospel account is different than the account given in Acts 1, though it is the same author. In Luke 24:44-53, Jesus explains the scriptures to the disciples, about how he was to suffer, die, and on the third day rise, and they are now the witnesses of what has happened. Jesus instructs them to stay in the city to receive the Holy Spirit promised to them, and then, as he blesses them in Bethany, Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples worshiped him, and continued to worship in the temple and praise God.
The Seventh Sunday of Easter readings overlap a bit with Ascension Sunday, beginning with Acts 1:6-14. Following the ascension and the message of the angels in verse 11, the male disciples, along with the women disciples, Jesus’s mother, and brothers, gathered in Jerusalem at the house they were staying and devoted themselves to prayer. They trusted in Jesus’s words as they waited for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 is a song of praise to God for victory in battle. The psalmist sees God as the defender and protector of the most vulnerable of society, becoming a father to orphans, assurance to widows, and liberator to prisoners. God brings restoration to those who have lost everything. God led the people through the wilderness and showed power through nature, providing for the people. The psalmist concludes by calling all of creation and the people to praise God—because God is the one who will fight for those on the margins.
The Epistle reading concludes the series in 1 Peter with 4:12-14, 5:6-11. The writer again assures the beloved community of Christ that they do not suffer alone. In the time when they are facing persecution, they are sharing in Christ’s sufferings and are blessed by God’s glory in those times. The author urges the listeners to be humble and steadfast with God and to resist evil. All believers are struggling and suffering around the known world, but the author gives assurance that Christ will restore, support, and strengthen those who are faithful.
Jesus’s final prayer for the disciples in John’s account begins in John 17:1-11. Jesus prays that he might be glorified so that all people will know that God is the true God and he, Jesus, is the one whom God has sent. Jesus has finished the work God gave him to do, and now Jesus prays on behalf of the disciples, because they believed. They were sent by God to Jesus, and now Jesus prays that they will be protected by God as Jesus returns to God, and that the disciples may be one, as he and God are one.
The Narrative Lectionary looks to the Hope of Resurrection in Romans 6:1-14. Paul uses rhetoric to show that even though Jesus has saved all from sin, believers are not to continue in sin. All who are baptized are baptized into Jesus’s death and have new life now because Jesus was raised. The old self has been crucified, and believers live into a new life. Death frees us from sin at the end of our life, but Jesus’s death frees us from sin now. We are alive in Christ. Sin has no hold on us anymore.
The supplementary verse of Matthew 6:24 is Jesus’s teaching that we cannot serve two masters. Jesus declares we cannot serve God and wealth. Paul would say we cannot live into the ways of this world if we live into Christ. Our old lives are put to death.
The Ascension is a mystery to us—we know Jesus didn’t just fly up above because heaven is not above us, though that was the understanding of the heavens and the earth at the time. Rather, Jesus came to earth in an unexpected way—as vulnerable as a helpless baby—and will return to us in a similar way. Somehow, Jesus attained oneness with God, and we, too, will one day be at one with God and one another.
Call to Worship
Praise God, who reigns over all.
Praise the One who made heaven and earth, the whole universe.
Praise God, whose reign is not of this world.
Praise the One who commanded us to love one another and laid down his life for us.
Praise God, who will never fail us as worldly politicians do.
Praise the One who became last of all and servant of all.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
Praise the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Architect of the Universe, You created the expanse beyond our wildest imagination. There are stars so massive and particles so small that we can never comprehend it. We struggle with day to day living when You have made so much that we will never know. The world’s challenges seem unsurmountable and yet You made planets so distant that none of us will live to see even half of Neptune’s orbit around the sun, though we witness Mercury in retrograde a few times a year. Great Designer, may we remember with humility how small we really are, and yet Your love for us is as vast as the galaxy. May we recall in our moments of loneliness that You know the number of stars and the number of hairs on our heads. May we hold on to the knowledge in our most despairing times that You sent Your Only Son for us, to show us Your Way, Your Truth, and Your Life. All in all, if there is nothing we can truly know except one thing, may it be Your love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
God fashioned us all out of stardust, the same molecules that are the building blocks of the universe are in our bones and tissue. We were made out of love. You are made in God’s image. When you look in a mirror, God is winking back at you. You are precious in God’s sight. May we hold one another tenderly, forgiving each other as we are forgiven, working to repair what has been broken, and to live into the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God loves you so. Amen.
The Ascension is a mystery to us, O God. We know that Christ is not above us physically, but the oneness You have known from the beginning is the oneness Christ experienced at the Ascension, a oneness we live into as the body of Christ on earth. It is a mystery how all of us, with all our differences, with all our struggles and challenges, can be one in You, but You have ordained it so. Help us to live into the Body of Christ with our diversity of gifts and strengths, to remember we need one another, and to build each other up. Christ is our head, we are the body, and we are joined at the heart by our love for one another. May we seek to share that love and oneness with the world. Amen.