The Seventh Sunday of Easter, 1 June 2014

Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
St. John 17:1-11

From Cathedral Ridge, Woodland Park, Colorado

Background:  The Ascension
Aetheria, in her journal about the observances of Christian Palestine in the fourth century, mentions the vigil of this feast day.  St. Augustine and St. Chrysostom both mention the actual feast day along with other ancients following the early fifth century.  Its placement as the 40th day in Eastertide, and preceding the Feast of Pentecost, along with other practices and observance connected with Rogation Days have confused the actual aspects of the day.  The day is universally celebrated among the churches, although in these latter days, its propers are often transferred to the following Sundays.  In the Eastern Church it is celebrated as the “Going Up”.  Many of the practices in some countries are actually those associated with the Rogation Procession.  One common practice is the extinguishing of the Paschal Candle following the reading of the Ascension Gospel.  In some churches this action, the extinguishing of the candle, is delayed until Pentecost.

Acts 1:6-14

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 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."

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, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

In this scene, and one ought to really compare it to Luke’s other Ascension scene in Luke 24:50-53 to see the further development of the Ascension idea, Luke provides three distinct aspects to Jesus’ ascension.  The first reaches back to define the historic context in which the momentous events preceding the passion and resurrection of Jesus.  It is in and for Israel that these events happened, and now Luke moves to connect this salvation history of Israel to other lands and peoples.  It is invested in the misguided hopes of the disciples, which Jesus quickly corrects, “it is not for you to know the times and seasons.”  Something is clearly beyond them and leads to something new.  That is the second scene in which the Holy Spirit is promised and will give them the means for mission and reaching beyond Jerusalem.  The third aspect is the places that Jesus mentions beyond Jerusalem, “in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  What is remarkable, in addition to the mission to the remainder of the earth, is the reconciliation of Judea and Samaria.  That Jesus then departs and that the angels send the disciples to Galilee brings the cycle to a close, open to something new.  The discernment of this new mission is described in the action of devotion to prayer, the inclusion of women, and the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. What are the differences in the account of the Ascension in Luke and in Acts?
  2. What do you know about your “times and seasons”?
  3. What does your faith have to say about your times?

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36 Exsurgat Deus

Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *
let those who hate him flee before him.

Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *
as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; *
let them also be merry and joyful.

Sing to God, sing praises to his Name;
exalt him who rides upon the heavens; *
YAHWEH is his Name, rejoice before him!

Father of orphans, defender of widows, *
God in his holy habitation!

God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom; *
but the rebels shall live in dry places.

O God, when you went forth before your people, *
when you marched through the wilderness,

The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain,
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, *
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance; *
you refreshed the land when it was weary.

Your people found their home in it; *
in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.

Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; *
sing praises to the Lord.

He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; *
he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice.

Ascribe power to God; *
his majesty is over Israel;
his strength is in the skies.

How wonderful is God in his holy places! *
the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people!
Blessed be God!

Again we have a psalm that has extensive borrowings from other psalms and other literature.  Of note is its resemblance to an Ugaritic poem celebrating the journey of the Ba’al across the heavens.  These verses are the reasons for marrying these verses to the psalm for a Sunday following the Ascension.  The verses all celebrate the presence of YHWH in the history of God’s people.  I am taken with one image in the poem, “let them vanish like smoke when the winds drive it away.”  Robert Alter’s translation is, “as smoke disperses, may they disperse.”  I am taken with this image in that it describes the dispersal of the disciples that Luke describes in Luke.  That God rides the heavens is a wonderful image, but the description of human activity which is protected by God’s grace and favor is also a description of the theatre in which the winds of the Holy Spirit will blow.

Breaking open Psalm 68:
  1. What images of God in this psalm do you find engaging?
  2. What images of God in this psalm are not to your taste?
  3. Why?

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

The author of I Peter continues his discussion of responsible suffering in the face of hostility.  He continues to connect the suffering, not only of daily life and its difficulties, but also of possible persecutions of Christian people, with the sufferings of Jesus.  The author wants his readers to understand the two aspects that confront them: the Spirit that is “resting on them,” and the pervasive presence of evil powers.  The respite is the welcoming arms of Jesus, “cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”  It is a real picture, even absent the persecutions, of people living in the Spirit, and with Christ, but in the midst of difficulty. The final verbs describe a divine healing: “restore, support, strengthen, and establish.”  If the Ascension of Jesus represents a kind of absence – these verses describe a vital presence.

Breaking open I Peter:
  1. How have you been restored by God?
  2. Is evil a threat to you?  How?
  3. How is God present in your life?

St. John 17:1-11

Jesus looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

"I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. "

Dorothy Ann Lee, in her Commentary on John, compares this prayer on the part of Jesus (often called “The High Priestly Prayer”) to the prayers offered by patriarchs on their death beds (cf. Genesis 49, Deuteronomy 33, Joshua 24).  Here Jesus describes his own testament to his disciples, but describes it in the context of his relationship to the Father.  In some sense the prayer is didactic in that the content seems not only intended for the ears of the Father but for the disciples as well.  The glory that John so elegantly describes in his prologue is now completed in an anticipation of the Passion of Jesus, and the completion of the plan.

Jesus’ attention now turns to the disciples as he prays for them.  The description underscores the relationship with Jesus, “those whom you gave me from the world.” All the tools for mission are passed to the disciples, prayer, relationship, indeed, the words themselves.  It is in the relationship of the Trinity, and in the community of love that Jesus proposes and demonstrates in the washing of feet, that the world will glimpse the glory that will be seen in the coming days.  Jesus asks the Father to protect these recipients of grace.  The hint that binds this prayer to this particular Sunday sits in Jesus’ phrase, “and now I am no longer in the world.”  It will be left to the Spirit and those who will remain in the world to carry this community of love beyond cross and grave to not only Israel, but to the nations as well.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is the way that Jesus points to?
  2. How is Jesus the truth for you?
  3. How is life different when you follow the Word?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2014, Michael T. Hiller


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