Note: The scripture references listed are for Ascension Day (May 13, 2021) and can be used for worship on May 16. These notes are based on the Gospel reading for Sunday, May 16: John 17:6-19.
This prayer that John records is a prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples. The part that includes us (“but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,” John 15:20) happens just after our text for this week. But we can be included anyway. Jesus is praying for us! What an amazing thing. Set this thought alongside the idea of Ascension. Jesus is leaving, but Jesus is with us. Jesus takes his place at the right hand of God, returns to the circle of the Trinity, but at the same time continues to be present with us.
Worship this final week of Eastertide needs to be a celebration of living the Resurrection with the Resurrected one at our side. It is a reminder that we are not alone, that we continue to journey with the one who calls us and the one who saves us; even as we look forward to the one who will empower us to continue the work of building toward the kin-dom of God.
This experience of worship is about relationship with Christ and with one another. And it is about glory—receiving glory and giving glory. We are called to recognize the glory of Christ in the world today. And the hint we are given is that it is found in moments of sacrificial love. It is experienced in moments of service and support. We give glory when we bind up the broken; we bask in glory when we feed the hungry; we see glory when we reach out to heal hurting hearts. Jesus is inviting his followers to know God’s glory in their own lives as he knew it in his.
So, our prayers are outwardly focused; our challenge is to go into all the world, yet the call is clear to not belong to the world. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean we hate or fear the world. Like the one we follow, we have come into the world because we love the world. What it means is that we do not take our values from the world around us; we do not have the priorities that much of the world has. We don’t look to society for guidance on how we live in community. This is not a rejection of the world, but a rejection of the values of the fallen world.
One of our values is community. We are in this together. So, while we stand, on this Ascension Sunday, looking to the Christ departing from us into heaven, we stand together. We stand side by side. And when my vision of who Christ is begins to waver, you come alongside and shore me up. When you begin to wonder if it was all a dream, I’ll be there to remind you of the reality of our experience of Christ. We are here for mutual support. Christ prays that his followers would be united, would stand together as we embark on our mission. Living the Resurrection is to celebrate the community of faith that we have become.
At the same time, we celebrate our mission, we understand that we do not exist for ourselves. We were not called to care only for ourselves. We were not even called to protect ourselves; that’s God’s job, according to Jesus’ prayer. We were called and are called to go into the world. Sent by Jesus, we move out of our comfort zones to engage a hurting and broken world. So, we encourage one another to labor for the kin-dom by serving and loving and working within the world.
Our songs celebrate the Christ who sends and who stand with us. Our prayers turn us toward the world. Our worship enfolds in the joy of community, or even of family, and heals our hurts and shores up our spirit, but not as end in itself. All of that inward movement is so that we can then turn and move outward. Worship, as personally gratifying and inspiring and transforming as it can be, is not ultimately about us. It is about God, and God in Christ, experienced through the Spirit, first. And then about the world, about sending us out to live the Resurrection by making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is who we are. We belong to Christ.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.