The actual Holy Day is Thursday, May 17th, but I suspect that many of us are not going to celebrate then. The lessons for Ascension Day carry the theme well, and I will be using them on this last Sunday before Pentecost.
- The Acts text is the natural text to hold the Easter season in tension with Pentecost Sunday. Luke, the historian, records the 40 days of the Easter appearances of Jesus, then follows with the stories of the Ascension and the birth of the church. I especially like Acts 1:8-“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.” Christ calls the church to be witnesses near home (Jerusalem),to the folks on the outskirts (Judea), the outcasts (Samaria) and even foreigners and folks not like us (the ends of the earth). All of this comes with the promise of the Holy Spirit.
- The Psalm is one of celebration that compliments the day, and it is also has the theme of the universal nature of God’s reign. Use it in worship…it sings.
- The Epistle is one of the most poignant passages within Paul’s letters. It is theologically deep and poetic, a powerful combination. It is a prayer of Paul for the Ephesians–that they would receive the spirit of wisdom, that they would know the riches of their inheritance in Christ, and the power of the Resurrection and Ascension. It ends with a doxology of sorts–God raised Jesus from the dead, and raised him to sit at the right hand of God, putting Christ above all, and head over all, and fills all in all.
- The Gospel account of the Ascension and the Acts passage work together to tell the full story–Jesus tells the disciples that all of the scriptures, the entire “TaNak” must be fulfilled. Jesus was definitely from the more liberal wing of Judaism that saw all of the scripture as authoritative. The Easter proclamation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the repentance of sin. This message is to be proclaimed to all nations beginning in Jerusalem. The message may start at home, but the disciples are called to bear witness far from home. Jesus promises the Spirit, and tells the disciples to wait. Wait for that power–then get busy. Jesus offers one more blessing on the disciples as he ascends. Their response–they worshiped him, they went back to Jerusalem, and were “continually in the temple blessing God.” Two big points: 1) You are witnesses. We that have taken on the name Christian, and who choose to follow the Risen Christ, should hear the same words–You Are Witnesses–at home and abroad. The transformational story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is to be shared. 2) You will receive power. The Holy Spirit is still at work and still making amazing thins happen. We need to be open to it, receive it, then get ready to get busy.
- “Ascension Politics,” Debra Dean Murphy, The Ekklesia Project, 2009 (a good read)
- “Why Are You Looking Up?” Ken Carter, Blogging toward Sunday, Theolog: The Blog of The Christian Century, 2009 (quick read)
- Game Plan