I.Theme – The Ascension and its implications for the church
"The Ascension" – Catherine Andrews
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
The New Testament treats the Ascension as an integral part of the Easter event. It is the final appearance Jesus’ physical and resurrected presence on earth.
The Ascension is the final component of the paschal mystery, which consists also of Jesus’ Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Burial, Descent Among the Dead, and Resurrection. Along with the resurrection, the ascension functioned as a proof of Jesus’ claim that he was the Messiah. The Ascension is also the event whereby humanity was taken into heaven.
The Ascension is the beginning of the church’s mission more so than Pentecost:
1. It is powered by the Spirit
2. It is a call to be witnesses
3. It is worldwide is scope
The Ascension holds the promise of Christ’s return
The Ascension also effectively connects the story of Jesus with the story of the church .
The early church recognized the significance of the Ascension. It is found in every major creed. For example, the Apostles’ Creed states: “On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
The risen Jesus now sits in a position of authority ("the Father’s right hand"). With Jesus at the Father’s right hand, we can never think of God in the same way again, that is, apart from Jesus.
Ascension is all about direction.
1. Looking upwards
Where is heaven ? When the early church confessed that Jesus had ascended into heaven, the emphasis was not so much on a place – the emphasis was on God’s immediate presence. The church was confessing that Jesus had entered into the divine glory – that the risen Jesus now dwelt in the immediate presence of God. This may explain the meaning of the phrase, "a cloud took him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). Oftentimes in scripture, a cloud represents the shekinah glory of God, the sign of God’s presence (cf. Exo. 33:7-11; Mark 9:7).
2. Heading downwards
Apostles are grouped together in Jerusalem awaiting their next step. "Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying…l these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer
3. Setting outwards.
This is an opportunity to reflect on the mission imperative of the church, the dangers of the church looking inward and the strength we gain from a Jesus now in the heavens who equips us for service
First Reading – Act 1:6-14
We are moving in this scripture to the Ascension and beyond. Prior to this reading it says in vv3-5 that Jesus “presented himself alive … during forty days”;
Together in Jerusalem, the disciples are still confused thinking that Jesus mission is just to restore Israel. Is it now that time ?
Jesus tries to set them straight (v. 7):
-only God knows the steps towards the end “times” and the opportune moments (“periods”);
-the gift, the “Holy Spirit” (v. 8) will give you “power” to spread the good news. He has implied this will come to them in Jerusalem
-not only in Israel but “to the ends of the earth”.
The second part of the reading describes the ascension.
Acts 1,9-11 and Luke 24:50-53 are by the same author and describe the event which took place in Bethany
Luke –“ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. “
Acts 1, 9-11
"When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. "
The “cloud” in Elijah’s ascension and in Jesus’ is a sign of God’s presence. But the event goes beyond the physical; it needs interpretation by “two men …”, messengers from God: Jesus’ return will be a divine intervention in human affairs. Bethany and the Mount of Olives (“Olivet”, v. 12) are adjacent and close to Jerusalem. The eleven disciples possibly return to the site of the Last Supper, “the room upstairs” (v. 13). The band devoted to Jesus now includes “certain women” (v. 14) and Jesus’ brothers. (“Judas”, v. 13, is not Iscariot but son of James.) They meet for liturgical prayer on a regular basis, probably following Temple practices.
The personal journey that many were to make must have been great with a dawning realization that the challenge Jesus had given them would mean a life of sacrifice and service.
We often say Pentecost is the birthday of the Church but Ascension marks the start of the mission of the Church as Jesus talks of a mission to the whole world.
Psalm -Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
This psalm seems to have accompanied a liturgy (drama) in the Temple depicting the movement of the Israelites from before “Sinai” (v. 8) to Jerusalem (where God dwells, v. 17). It consists of snippets, each a few verses long, commemorating God’s championship of Israel.
V. 1 echoes Moses’ words whenever the Ark was moved (see Numbers 10:35). “As wax melts …”
v. 2 is the language of God’s presence. In Canaanite culture, the storm god, Baal, “rides upon the clouds” (heavens) (v. 4); here God does so
He is savior of the needy and persecutor of the ungodly (vv. 5-6).
Water was (and is) valuable in Palestine (vv. 8-10) to provide life. Earthquakes and deluges in vv8 are associate with Sinai
God’s “voice” (v. 33) is probably thunder, a sign of his “power” (vv. 34, 35). May all people everywhere (“kingdoms of the earth”, v. 32 not in the readings) praise God! To the early church, this psalm foretold the ascension of Christ, his rule over the entire earth.
The final verses of the psalm underline the majesty of God and, importantly for us on Easter 7 after Ascension, his rule over the whole earth.
Epistle – 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
This week concludes the series of readings from 1 Peter that have provided the Second Reading through the Easter season.
This passage reflects the experience and the perspective of an emerging Christianity community that is sufficiently established to be noticed (and persecuted) by their contemporaries, but does not yet have the protection offered by antiquity or allies in high places.
In the final verses of the letter, the author exhorts his readers (who are being persecuted at least to the extent of being made to feel inferior) to accept their “ordeal” as something to be expected and as testing their mettle. Christ is not just an example of suffering-for-doing-good; they are to rejoice that in suffering they actually share in his sufferings.
This is preparation for union with him when he comes again (“when his glory is revealed”, 4:13). They are indeed fortunate (“blessed”, 4:14) that the Spirit, the source of oneness with God (“glory”) is with them. For a Christian, to suffer for doing good is not a “disgrace” (4:16). Their suffering is in fact the start of end-time judgement. How much worse off will be those who do not “obey” (4:17) Christ’s message!
In the conclusion, the author addresses fellow “elders” (5:1) as one who shares in the certain hope of Christ’s return. He exhorts the leaders to:
-care for the faithful,
-oversee them in doctrine and discipline,
-treat them as equals, and
-be examples to them.
All the faithful must make effort to “humble yourselves” (5:6) before God, who is always the great deliverer and to whom you owe obedience (“mighty hand”), so that in God’s time (“due time”) you will be brought into full union with him. Trust in God (5:7). Remain “alert” (5:8) for evil is always trying to divert you from God’s ways! Others also suffer as you do (5:9b). Your suffering will be brief; then God who has called you to eternal life will give you strength and the status due to you (“establish”, 5:10).
Gospel – John 17:1-11
The lectionary places Jesus’ prayer concerning glory at the end of the Easter season, but in John’s gospel the prayer occurs at the end of the Last Supper. The prayer–like the rest of John’s gospel–connects glory to the crucifixion itself.
Jesus has just ended his instructions to his disciples; he has concluded with “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” The is a public prayer but one to be heard and reflected upon. It has also been described as the ‘high priestly prayer’ of Jesus, a designation inspired by the portrait of Jesus in Hebrews and by the imagery of 17:19.
Verses 1-8 constitute the beginning of a prayer in which Jesus reiterates his relationship with, authority received from, and activities for God.
The time appointed by God for his departure (crucifixion, resurrection and ascension) has come.
Jesus has been glorifying the Father on earth, making God’s name known , and passing on God’s words. Glorifying is how God is made known to humans. He had glorified the Father by His earthly life of obedience and submission. During his public ministry Jesus taught what God wanted him to teach, and performed the healings and other works that God wanted him to perform. Such faithfulness honors God (8:49). In another sense, however, Jesus glorified God by revealing God’s power.
According to John’s gospel, Jesus made divine power visible by the miraculous signs he performed. If the signs reveal God’s glory by displaying divine power, the crucifixion reveals God’s glory by conveying divine love. The crucifixion completes Jesus’ work of glorifying God on earth, for by laying down his life he gives himself completely so that the world may know of Jesus’ love for God and God’s love for the world (John 3:16; 14:31).
What he brings is the offer of life in relationship. To do the goal of the commission is variously described as the passing on of eternal life , thus enabling people to know God and Jesus Christ, to keep the word , to receive the words , to know and believe what the Son claims about his commission , to glorify the Son and to become one .
It begins now in faith, as people come to know the love of the God who made them. And such life has a future through the promise of resurrection. Yet the gospel also recognizes that "No one has ever seen God" (1:18). God’s presence is hidden until God chooses to reveal it. The theme of glory has to do with the way revelation takes place.
The Father is the source of all that the Son has been given; Jesus is from (out of) the Father; and the Father sent him into the world. This revelation of glory, of the presence of God, is the work of Jesus. Jesus gives what he has received from God, and that his followers receive what Jesus has given them.
As the Father’s envoy Jesus not only reports that he has finished the task , but also requests reinstatement to his former status. This heavenly glory is something that the Son of God enjoyed before the world existed. That is, he asks that he may be glorified .. To share in such glory is to share in divine honor, divine majesty, and divine power. It was out of love that the Father gave the Son such glory before the foundation of the world, so that sharing in God’s glory means sharing in God’s love
Jesus’ petition was not to receive glory independently from the Father, but to be glorified to the praise of the Father. This means: being brought back to the glory of the Father’s presence, which is where he started . The ‘hour’ has in mind the events about to be unfolded in Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion.
The unity of Jesus with his heavenly Father is affirmed. Father gives glory to the son, the state of ultimate good and love existing outside of time .
Notice that those who belong to Jesus were NOT "converted" by him. They already belonged to God and God gave them to Jesus. The relationship is not created by Jesus. The relationship may be realized; may be enhanced; may grow; but it is not created – it is a given. It is also hard news, because it means that WE do not get to choose who God is in relationship with; and that means that if we want to be in relationship with God, we must also be in relationship with those whom God has already chosen to be in relationship with – whether we like them or not; whether we agree with God’s choices or not.
Verses 9-19 are prayers on behalf of Jesus’ followers , true believers. These men who were radically different in temperament, personality and political philosophy. It was because of their glaring differences that their unity was so evident
By means of his passion Jesus will return to the Father and enter a heavenly glory that his followers on earth cannot fully perceive, but can hope to see in the future. Therefore, Jesus concludes his prayer by asking that those whom God has given him may one day be with him in God’s presence, to see the fullness of the glory that God gave to him in love
By his resurrection and ascension Jesus returns to the heavenly glory that God prepared for him in love, and Jesus prays that his followers will one day join him in the Father’s presence to share in this glory and love (17:5, 24-26). To the eye of faith, however, the glory of the exalted Lord is already present in the crucified body of Jesus. If glory defines what the crucifixion is, the crucifixion defines what glory is. The crucifixion manifests the scope of divine power by disclosing the depth of divine love.
Verses 9 to 11. "No longer in the world" cannot be understood literally. If unity is not to be found in uniformity, it is to be seen in union. The disciples are now "in" Jesus. They are bonded with him; they abide in him. They are also still "in" the world, but in addition, they are now also embedded in the reality of Jesus. That they also are in the world is the reason for their needing protection
After His ascension He will no longer physically walk among His people, until they are reunited with Him. It is for this reunion that our Lord prayed
John is telling them/us that Jesus is worried about something: disunity and division. He prays that the disciples will be one. Later he will extend this concern to all future disciples. Unity is not a strategy of convenience and economy; It is rather an extension of John’s understanding of what eternal life (or salvation) means. It is not about a place or a gift or a certificate of acquittal so much as about a relationship. John helps us avoid the commodification of the gospel and invites to an understanding of being good news by being community in which love is lived out. It has a future because it has a present in which already here and now we share and delight in the life of God who is always taking initiatives of compassion. The greatest antidote to greed is to want only the reward of being one with the God whose being is self giving love.
Looking forward to the time after his departure, Jesus asks the Father to “protect” (v. 11) the disciples from evil influences in the alien “world”, that they may have a unity modelled on that of the Father and the Son.
And notice that – as with other blessings – there is a larger purpose for being protected. We are protected so that we may be one as Jesus and God are one.
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
First Reading – Acts 1:6-14
Psalm – Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
Epistle – 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Gospel – John 17:1-11