The Seventh Sunday after Easter, 17 May 2015

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
I John 5:9-13
St. John 17:6-19

Background: The Feast of the Ascension

The festivities of this day are often either forgotten or relegated to the Sunday following. We know of its celebration from comments by Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa and others. At some point in its development it may have been joined with the celebration of Pentecost, and later was given its own unique celebration. In the Western Church the day has various names: The Feast of the Ascension, Holy Thursday, and Ascension Day. In the East it is known as the Analepsis (the taking up), and is one of the Twelve Great Feasts. The Feast is also connected in the west with Rogation Days that follow Rogation Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Some of the customs of this day seem more related to Rogation than to the Ascension, such as the blessing of beans and grapes, the blessing of first fruits, and the “beating of the bounds.” Another custom is the extinguishing of the Paschal Candle.

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus-- for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us-- one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection." So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

In the manner of any great prophet, Jesus numbers his disciples as “the Twelve” adding a symbolic dimension to those who followed and learned from him. With the suicide of Judas, that symbolic number was no longer in force and it was necessary to fill the gap. This follows Luke’s desire to demonstrate how God’s plan, seen in the events of the Hebrew Scriptures, is now made whole in the actions of Jesus. What follows is that Peter describes the process for completing the Twelve: recital of qualifications, nomination, prayer, and the casting of lots. This is the last instance where the casting of lots is mentioned. Later on it will be replaced by the laying on of hands.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. In what ways are you a leader in your church?
  2. What kind of leadership is needed in your church?
  3. How are leaders chosen?

Psalm 1 Beatus vir qui non abiit

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the LORD, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.

It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

This is a wisdom psalm that carefully outlines the virtues of the Hebrew Scriptures: doing good, and realizing that evil will be punished. All of this is set in the rather human activity of walking, or proceeding on a path. Of such is “blessedness,” or “happiness” constituted. What the BCP translates as “meditates” Robert Alter renders as “murmurs”, better capturing the manner in which the Hebrew Scriptures were read, even privately. (Having just been at the Wailing Wall, such murmurs were quite apparent to me.) Another allusion is now introduced, the idea of the plant (here a tree) and water. Associated with the tree are the products that are also expected of the plant – leaves, fruit, and seed. All of these contribute to the future of the plant and those who use it. The plant is an example of the righteous person, and quickly the psalmist compares the wicked as “chaff which the wind blows away.”

Breaking open Psalm 1:
  1. What kind of good have you done in your life?
  2. Have you ever been wicked? How?
  3. What are the fruits of your life?

1 John 5:9-13

If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Again the notion of the witness is brought up here. It is the “testimony” that is compared. God’s testimony is greater than that of a human, and God’s testimony is about the Son. The goal is to be so intimately associated with this witness that it is “in (our) hearts.” The witness about Jesus is that Jesus gives us life – even to eternity. Thus Jesus is life, and those who cannot see this do not have life. The goal of the author in the last passage is to pass on this knowledge of eternal life.

Breaking open I John:
  1. What kind of testimony can you offer about life in Jesus?
  2. What kind of testimony have you heard?
  3. What do others expect to hear from you?

St. John 17:6-19

Looking up to heaven, Jesus prayed, "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. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth."

Here, as the Sundays of Easter end, we end with Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” Dorothy Ann Lee, in her commentary on John calls this “The Prayer of the Departing Redeemer.” While prayer in our mind’s eye is often the vehicle for requesting aid or needs, her Jesus prays about the relationship that exists between him and God, and God and the world. In many respects this prayer stands at the cusp of two great ideas in John – Jesus – the Word made flesh, and Jesus the one who dies. This intimate relationship of the Father and the Son has been demonstrated repeated throughout the Gospel, but these two events underscore its importance. Jesus is as close to God as God’s breath, and in the Passion it is Jesus who is lifted up to the glory of the Father.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How intimate are you with God, or with Jesus?
  2. How intimately do you know your own faith?
  3. How do you communicate to God?

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 © 2015, Michael T. Hiller


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