- Acts 1:6-14 & Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
- 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
- John 17:1-11
First Reading: Jesus ascends to the Father
The account of the ascension in Acts 1 has a close echo in Luke 24:
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. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:50–53 NRSV)
So when they had come together, they asked him, “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.” (Acts 1:6–11 NRSV)
Clearly these two sections need to be read together, and—just as clearly—what we have in the closing sentences of Luke 24 is a summary of the information provided (with more detail) in Acts 1.
Interestingly, nowhere else in the NT do we find such an explicit description of the ascension/exaltation scene from the Easter tradition. The idea that Jesus was raised to glory with God, including variants that simply describe Jesus as being with the Father, is widely-attested in the NT. But no other NT writer attempts to describe the moment of glorification/exaltation.
Turning a metaphor into a physical reality is a classic Lukan characteristic, but the desire to provide a witness statement attesting to the ascension (and deification) of Jesus may reflect Luke’s context in second century Roman society. Such statements were an essential part of the process for the Senate’s confirmation of the apotheosis of a recently-deceased emperor.
Fur further discussion of the Ascension, see:
Second Reading: 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.
As is often the case, the lectionary verses reflect some careful editing with the verses shown below in italics being omitted from the lectionary:
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.
But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?” Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.
Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among youto tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
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.” (1Peter 4:12–5:11 NRSV)
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. Respectability matters, but there remains a willingness to embrace ostracism—even martyrdom—as the cost of membership in the sect.
Gospel: Re-imaging Jesus in the twenty-first century
This week’s Gospel reading from John 17:1-11 continues the recent lectionary focus on the farewell discourse in John 13:31-17:26. This sets the action in the time prior to Jesus’ arrest and execution. However, the lectionary is correct in choosing these passages for the time during Easter as the underlying assumptions are those of a risen and ascended Lord.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he 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.
This week, in particular, we have Jesus portrayed as a victorious hero who has (or will shortly) take his place among the Immortals and who will then be in a position to reward his followers with salvation and honors of various kinds. This representation offends our modern sensibilities which regard such personal distribution of the rewards of power as a form of official corruption, but in the ancient social order of the Hellenistic empires such action by a patron on behalf of their clients was both expected and accepted. We see much the same set of expectations in the devotional practices of the medieval church as saints were imagined to be powerful patrons who would intercede on behalf of their supplicants to secure additional benefits not otherwise available to the pious.
The traditional ways of imagining the ascension of Jesus and the significance for humanity of Jesus taking his seat at the right hand of God reflect specific ancient perspectives which we for the most part no longer accept:
- The universe as a muti-layered reality, with God being located in the highest level and various demonic powers inimical to our spiritual progress located at the intermediate levels to form a kind of psychic obstacle course that we must complete successfully before gaining access to God.
- Jesus as a true Hero who has not only overcome those obstacles (and defeated the powers and rulers in the process) in order to claim his place at God’s right hand, but who can now act as a classic “Lord” (Gk: kyrios) and come to the aid of his devotees as a “Saviour” (Gk: soter).
It is clear enough that our traditional images for telling the Jesus story (or even the God story) rely on ancient assumptions that simply do not function in our culture. The challenge is to go beyond the task of deconstruction and to find new ways to speak of God, new narratives to express the significance of Jesus, new lexicons for the liturgy and new phrases for our prayers.
One way in which this is often done these days is to translate the spatial imagery of the external cosmos into the psychological categories of inner space. Those categories have their own limitations, but for many people they seem to work better than traditional metaphors.
Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan is a contemporary composer and theologian whose work invites us to imagine God differently and to experience faith with some different accents. Richard’s song Ground and Source of All that Is just one of several new pieces that you may like to check out.
Ground and source of all that is,
one that anchors all our roots,
Being of all ways and forms,
deepest home and final truth.
We live and move in you.
We live and move in you.
Lover of ten thousand names,
holy presence all have known,
Beauty ever welcoming,
Mystery to stir the soul. We live …
Nature by whose laws we live,
author of our DNA,
All compelling call to life,
drawing one and all the same. We live …
Energy of heav’nly sphere,
spark within the insect mind,
Unseen pulse to charge our plans,
bringing order and surprise. We live …
Call to kindness, call to serve,
freedom for our chosen course,
Guide and friend for all who dream,
nourished by our ground and source. We live …
For details of Richard’s work, including online ordering and sample sound tracks, visit Rivers Voice
- 480 Ascension of Jesus: (1a) Luke 24:50-52, (1b) Acts 1:9-11.
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre: