Worship Resources for May 16th, 2021—Ascension Sunday, Seventh Sunday of Easter

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 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Narrative Lectionary: One in Christ, Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29 (Luke 1:68-79)

Acts 1:1-11 contains the first of Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension (the first is the gospel lesson, Luke 24:44-53). In this version in Acts, the author of Luke begins with a similar introduction to the Gospel in his name, speaking of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection, in which Jesus “presented many convincing proofs” and stayed with the disciples for 40 days. Jesus speaks to the disciples before his ascension that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit soon. The disciples, however, ask the question about the kingdom being restored to Israel. It seems they are still focused on worldly concerns. Jesus tells them it is not for them to know, but they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit and be witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Then Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Two angels ask them why they are still looking up toward heaven, for Jesus will return in the same way they saw him go. In other words, Jesus has told them what is to happen soon, the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and they are to go to the ends of the earth—not stuck, staring up at nothing.

Psalm 47 is a song calling the congregation to praise God. God chose the people to be God’s heritage. God is the one who reigns over all the nations of the earth, and the people praise God as their king.

Psalm 93 is similar to psalm 47, belonging to a group of psalms that are songs of praise for God who is the people’s king, the ruler over all the earth’s nations. In this psalm, God also rules over creation, and God is greater than the roaring floodwaters. Creation praises God, who is everlasting and reigns from ancient times. The psalmist concludes by proclaiming God’s law as trustworthy and true.

In the introduction to the letter to the Ephesians, the writer (purporting to be Paul) prays for “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” for those coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord. The writer declares that Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God, and all power and authority and dominion falls under his feet. Christ is the head of the church, which is his body, and the fullness of Christ is known through the church.

In Luke’s first account of the ascension of Jesus, Jesus explains the scriptures from the Torah, prophets, and writings, so that the disciples understand who he is as the Messiah, that he was to suffer and die and on the third day rise. The disciples are witnesses of what Jesus has done, and Jesus tells them to wait until they have “been clothed with power from on high” (received the Holy Spirit). In this account, as he was blessing them, he withdrew to heaven and the disciples returned to the temple in Jerusalem to praise God.

For the seventh Sunday of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary readings also begin in Acts 1, just a few verses later, when Peter speaks in front of the gathered believers. At this time, there are only one hundred twenty left. Peter declares that they need someone to replace Judas. Two names were brought forward, and they cast lots. Matthias was chosen to be added to the disciples to be among the twelve (and Matthias is not mentioned elsewhere in the scriptures).

Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm, reminding the listener/reader that those who meditate on God’s instructions and find delight into living into God’s ways are blessed and happy, trees who are nourished by streams of water. Those who are foolish and wicked are like chaff blown about in the wind and will not stand in the congregation of the faithful. God watches over those who live into God’s ways; the foolish will fall away.

The Revised Common Lectionary concludes its epistle series of 1 John with 5:9-13. Those who believe in the Son have testimony in their hearts: God’s love. God’s testimony is greater than human testimony. The testimony is this: God has given us eternal life that is found in Jesus. Whoever has Jesus has life, and whoever does not have the Son of God in their life does not have this life. The writer states this so that those who have Jesus in their life will know that they have eternal life.

Jesus prays for his disciples in John 17:6-19. He prays for God’s protection to be with them as he is returning to God. Jesus prays that they would be one, as he is one with God. Jesus has sent them out into the world with God’s word, and the world has hated them, but they do not belong to the world, they belong to God. However, Jesus prays that they might be sanctified in truth and protected, for he knows his own betrayal, arrest, and death are coming.

The Narrative Lectionary continues in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he turns his attention to the members of the church, who are Gentiles but have been led astray believing they were not fully included. Paul’s argument is that faith is what makes a believer part of God’s family. Faith is what makes a believer a descendant of Abraham, not blood. In vs. 23-29, Paul declares that all who believe belong to Christ, and therefore are heirs of the promise given through God’s covenant to Abraham. There is no division or distinction between Jew and Greek, slave or free, male or female—any division created on earth dissolves in the new creation in Christ.

The secondary passage is from Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:68-79. Zechariah, who was unable to speak until his son John was born, now sings this song praising God who has raised up a mighty savior, one who fulfills the covenant promised to Abraham. To his own son, Zechariah sings that he will be the prophet of the Most High, the one who goes before the Messiah to prepare the way. Salvation comes to the people through the forgiveness of their sins, and they will be guided into the way of peace.

The ascension of Jesus is a funny story to tell, because it’s based on an outdated understanding of heaven above the earth—and yet, that’s exactly the point the angels make when they ask the “men of Galilee” why they are standing around looking up? They’re supposed to do Christ’s work on earth. Christ has told them what to do: not to spend time worrying about worldly things such as when the kingdom will be restored, but living into God’s beloved community on earth as it is in heaven. Later, the disciples will learn that this new beloved community is made up of all of God’s people, Jew and Gentile and everyone. Paul will go from, in his own words, being a Pharisee to one of the strongest voices for Gentile inclusion in the early church, that it is faith that makes us God’s people, heirs of the promise of Abraham. Belief in Jesus is what is required, and Jesus requires us to go and share the good news, God’s love for the world, with all; for Christ is at work in us now.

Call to Worship
We worship God, who created the heavens and earth,
God’s reign endures forever.
We follow Jesus, who made God’s love known to us,
Through his life, death, and resurrection
We listen for the Holy Spirit, who breathes in us,
And grants us wisdom and insight.
Come, worship our God together,
Celebrate all the ways God is made known to you, now.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that at times we are stuck. We are unable to move forward, and only can look back on what once was. We wonder where You are leading us, as it seems we are alone. Help us to become unstuck. Help us to move by faith, to trust that You are with us, guiding us along the way. Call to us so we will follow Your ways. Encourage us to live into hope instead of frozen in fear. Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, help us in this journey of life and faith, now and always. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 4:7)
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Know that the peace of God is with you. You are loved by God. Sink into that knowledge, and allow God’s wisdom and insight to fill your mind so that you might live into faith. Go in peace. Amen.

Prayer
God of Resurrection, we are grateful that the new life You have promised through Jesus Christ is made known to us now. We rejoice that we are a resurrection people, and that there is nothing, not even death, that can separate us from Your love. At times we have become complacent with the worldly life of our own making, but You are the creator of heavens and earth. We rejoice, because You are the one who made us and makes us new! Help us to leave behind the ways of this world and live into Your ways of restoration: love, justice, mercy, and peace. Amen and Amen.

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