Revised Common Lectionary
Ascension Sunday: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
Narrative Lectionary: The Christ Hymn, Philippians 2:1-13 (Luke 6:43-45)
For the Ascension, in Acts 1:1-11, we learn that Jesus remained with the disciples after his resurrection for about forty days, speaking about God’s beloved reign. When the time came near for him to depart, he assured them that while they were baptized with water, soon they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The disciples were to remain in Jerusalem for this promise. However, the disciples asked Jesus if this was the time when the kingdom would be restored to Israel. Most likely many of the disciples believed that the Messiah would re-establish the kingdom of Israel instead of “a kingdom not of this world.” Jesus simply tells them it is not for them to know. Instead, they will receive the Holy Spirit, and will be Jesus’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. As he was speaking, Jesus was lifted up and hidden by a cloud. While the disciples watched, two angels questioned why they were simply standing there and looking up? Jesus would return as he left: in an unexpected, hidden mystery.
The first selection for the psalm reading is Psalm 47, a song of praise for God who reigns over all the people of the earth. God is Most High, and yet God chose the people of Israel, to give them a heritage as God’s people. This song was most likely used in worship to call the people into praise as the people gathered, remembering their identity as descendants of Abraham and Jacob, children of God.
An alternative psalm reading is Psalm 93, another song of praise to God who reigns on high over creation. God is the mighty creator from everlasting, who established the world. The floodwaters lift up praise to God and God is greater than all the waters of the earth. God’s instruction is true and steadfast, for God reigns over all the earth.
The writer of Ephesians includes in their introduction a word of thanks for the receivers of this letter, for their faithfulness in Christ Jesus. As the writer prays for the receivers to have a spirit of wisdom and revelation, the writer is hoping they accept his message that was passed on to him: that God raised Christ from the dead and seated him in heaven, putting all things under his feet and setting Christ as the head of all things, including the church.
Luke 24:34-43 contains another version of Luke’s account of the ascension. Jesus reminds the disciples that he had told them that the Messiah must suffer and die, and on the third day rise. He taught them that this was found in scripture, and that they were witnesses of everything that had come to pass. In this version, Jesus instructs the disciples to wait in the city until they “have been clothed with power from on high.” After Christ’s ascension, the disciples returned to the city and worshiped in the temple.
The readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter begin with Acts 16:16-34, which was the Narrative Lectionary selection on May 8th. After Lydia’s welcome and conversion in verses 11-15, Paul, Silas, and the author of Luke-Acts (and perhaps others) were on their way to “the place for prayer.” It is not clear where this is—perhaps the same place where they met Lydia by the riverbank. While on their way, they met a slave woman, who was being forced to tell fortunes to make a prophet for those who controlled her, because she was possessed by a spirit. She took notice of Paul and proclaimed that he and his companions were servants of the Most High God with a message of God’s salvation. Paul was annoyed by her shouting and rebuked the spirit within her—it left her at that moment. The people controlling the woman had Paul and Silas thrown into prison because of the disturbance they had caused. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into the innermost cell of the prison, their feet chained up. However, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, and around midnight an earthquake occurred, shaking the foundation of the prison and all the gates opened and chains came loose. The jailer, upon awakening, assumed everyone had escaped and was going to kill himself, but Paul stopped him, because no one had left. The jailer believed that God had done this, and asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. The jailer and his household were then all baptized. They took care of Paul and Silas and fed them, for everyone had come to believe in God.
Psalm 97 is a song of praise to God as the ruler of all, the one of power and might. Similar to descriptions of other gods in ancient times, God’s power is witnessed in the might of thunder, lightning, and fire—symbols of judgment. However, those who worship images are put to shame, for God is not an idol, God is the One God above all other gods. God delivers the faithful from the wicked, and the righteous worship God.
The Epistle readings in Easter have followed Revelation, and conclude with 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21. The final vision is the completion of everything. The Spirit and the Bride (the church) invite all to join in the vision of God, and take the water of life for all who are thirsty. The beginning and the end, the bright morning star—Jesus invites us into this vision of eternity, and that it may come soon.
Jesus’s final prayer with his disciples is in John 17:20-26. Jesus prays not just for the disciples but for all those who will believe through the words of the disciples, that all may become one. That the world may come to believe, as Jesus and God Above are one, so may we all be one. The world does not know Jesus, but will know Jesus through the disciples, and through us, by the love of God that we share with one another.
The Narrative Lectionary tuns to the ancient hymn found in Philippians 2:1-13. Paul writes to the church and calls them to be in unity, to have the same mind and the same love. Instead of acting out of selfishness, look to the interests of others and serve out of humility. Paul then proclaims the ancient confession that Christ did not exploit his equality with God but emptied himself out of humility, becoming human to the point of death on the cross. Because of this, God exalted Christ above all others, so that everyone should become humble and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God Above.
The companion verses for the Narrative Lectionary are Luke 6:43-45, that good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit. We will be known by the fruit that we bear.
Both readings for Ascension Sunday and the Seventh Sunday of Easter are stories of Jesus preparing the disciples for when he is not present with them in the way they have known him. Both stories prepare the disciples for what is to come, for how the Holy Spirit will be at work among them. The way that the world will know God is through their love for one another, for they are witnesses to what Christ has taught. Love must be shared out of humility, and not out of selfish gain. John of Patmos concluded his Revelation with the vision of an abundant city, full of life, a place where God and all people can dwell with no division, sorrow, or evil, and all that is needed is an acceptance of the invitation, for the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” The love is already here. We have been prepared for this journey of faith, and the invitation stands.
Call to Worship
Long ago, our ancestors asked for God’s name;
God became known as the great “I Am.”
“The Alpha and the Omega,”
“The First and the Last,”
“The Beginning and the End,”
“The Bright Morning Star.”
Come, worship God,
“Who was and who is and who is to come, The Almighty.”
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, Ancient of Days, we confess that we are caught up in our own timelines. We want to see promises fulfilled in our lifetime: an end to poverty and corruption, the saving of our earth from climate change, the powerless lifted up and the powerful brought down. We want peace on earth now, and to live in harmony the rest of our days. Like the disciples, we confess we desire Your kingdom to come to earth with worldly power, instead of us working for Your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Call us into Your ways, and to know that while we may not see the fulfillment in our lifetime, our work is necessary. Our love matters, and all that we strive for will make a difference for Your reign. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.” These ancient words spoken to Noah after the flood remind us that God’s steadfast love endures forever. The earth endures from the beginning of creation, and so shall God’s love for us. No matter the struggles we face now, we will make it through by our love for one another. God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to us, that whoever believes may have eternity now. God sent the Son not to condemn the world but in order for the world to be saved. Go, and share this good news: God’s love endures forever and there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
God of Mystery and Wonder, we do not fully understand how You came to be among us in the in the flesh, through the Incarnation, but we know it. We do not understand how You came to us on that third day, after suffering and death and the finality of the tomb, but we know it. We do not understand how You ascended to heaven, wrapped in clouds and hidden from our sight, but we know it. And we do not understand how You are returning to us, except that it will be in an unexpected way, for we know You are a God of Mystery and Wonder, making all things new, bringing light out of the face of the deep, and life out of death. We are in awe of You, O Mighty One, and come before You in our worship, our prayers, and our praise. Amen.