Planning - The Seventh Sunday of Easter/Ascension Sunday/ Heritage Sunday
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Ascension Day or Sunday: The Teaching and Power of the Ascended Lord
(These readings may also be used on the Seventh Sunday of Easter.)
Before Jesus ascends into heaven, he twice redirects the disciples from focusing on earthly kingdoms and glory to a Spirit-empowered mission (and the coming of the same Spirit) that lay before them -- to be witnesses in all the world. When the angels "interrupt" their wondering gaze, they also (a third time) redirect the disciples to continue in this mission by waiting for the coming of the Spirit in Jerusalem.
Psalm 47 (UMH 781).
An enthronement psalm celebrating God's kingship. This Psalm was chosen because ascension language is enthronement language. Jesus ascending into heaven means that Jesus is now enthroned in heaven.
Paul encourages the churches connected with the congregation(s) at Ephesus to remember the fullness of who they now are because of what God has made them in Jesus Christ, risen, ascended to the right hand of all power and reigning in, through and beyond the church.
We heard this story a few weeks ago to focus on repentance. Today we hear it to focus on ascension and mission. "Power from on high" will come to the apostles to empower a ministry of proclamation of repentance and forgiveness to the whole world.
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Other brass or loud outdoor instruments? Do you know someone who does?
Use them if you have them, or arrange for a brass ensemble to be with your congregation today.
The texts for today, especially the psalm, beg for brass instruments to be played with joy and triumph. Got voices? I mean shouts! Use them today don't just read or sing the psalm; use it to direct real, live ritual action. Get folks clapping their hands, shouting songs of joy, doing something ritually to embody the Lord going up with a shout (perhaps a processional with a gospel book if you have one or a processional cross). Follow the psalm with a medley of Ascension songs (see United Methodist Hymnal 324, verse 2; 325, verses 3-4; 326, verses 1-2; and 327; Worship & Song, 3087, 3089). Open yourselves to the reality that the Lord who reigns on high will inhabit your praises.
And don't stop there. The texts for today do call for our "songs of loudest praise" to give plenty good room for adoration and awe. But all three of them also move us beyond adoration to action. "Why are you still standing here, gazing at the sky? This same Jesus you saw taken up will return in just the same way you saw him going into the sky." In other words, "The master will return. Now you, go get to work!"
From Luke and Acts, we know what that work is -- proclaiming resurrection, repentance, and forgiveness of sins everywhere, among all peoples, starting in Jerusalem, empowered by the Holy Spirit for whom they were called to wait. So, in the short term, the work is "Go, wait." And then in the longer term, it is: "Go, proclaim -- among all peoples."
And once that proclamation is done, once there are people whose lives are being turned around by the gospel and the Spirit, what then? Paul reminds the Christians in and around Ephesus their role now is to be his church, "which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."
The body of Jesus Christ is Christ's fullness, Paul says. Everything Christ was up to and is up to can be manifested in his body and through it. Eliminating killer diseases is only one manifestation of the Ascended Christ's exalted power among us.
And next week, at Pentecost, if you have been preparing people through this Eastertide to discover their spiritual gifts and claim their ministries in Jesus' name, you will have an opportunity to commission and celebrate many more. See "Pentecost Commissioning of Laypersons for Ministry in Christ's Name."
Now what? All thatand morethrough the Ascended One whose body we are and whose presence and power fills all in all.
Compass point: Ascension
In the scientific and modernist assumptions that lie behind much of current Western culture, the language and imagery usually associated with the Ascension of Jesus may not make sense.
That the event happened is secure in the Scriptures. That it is to be believed is secure in the ancient creeds (Apostles and Nicene).
But what it means for us that's a different story.
"Heaven" is not "up" for us as it would have been understood in the culture and cosmology in which Jesus lived. We look up to see only the tiniest fraction of one galaxy in which our solar system resides. And that galaxy lies in a universe of billons of galaxies in constant motion and often full of violent changes. The creative chaos that is our universe is hardly welcoming, hardly a mansion, hardly a hoped-for eternal home.
If Jesus went "up there," he would have frozen to death, suffocated, been dangerously irradiated, or ripped to shreds by black holes (if he got that far!).
So for many of us, the idea or even the image of the risen Jesus literally "going beyond the clouds" in any literal way may be simply preposterous.
But the language of ascension in the Bible and the church has not been taken primarily at its literal value. The language of ascension is, primarily, language of enthronement. It is Jesus ascending to his full authority, "seated at the right hand of the Father," as an early Christian hymn acclaims.
How will you help your congregation understand the reality of the ascension of our Risen Lord in a way that both honors the biblical story and addresses the real questions of folks today?
How will you help your congregation see that even in the context of the cosmology of the day -- a mythical cosmology surrounding the power of kings ascending thrones -- the story of the Ascension as recorded in Acts represents the radical inversion of human reigns in God's reign through Jesus Christ?
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These suggestions are primarily related to the Ascension readings:
Greeting: BOW 387 (Acts, Luke, Ephesians)
Greeting: BOW 389 (Acts, Luke, Ephesians)
Greeting: BOW 402 (Ascension Sunday)
Opening Prayer: BOW 393 (Acts, Luke, Ephesians)
Prayer: UMH 323, The Ascension (Acts, Luke, Ephesians)
Prayer: BOW 403 (Acts, Luke, Ephesians)
Prayer of Intercession: BOW 399, Week 7 (Easter)
Blessing and Dismissal: BOW 218, "Benediction for Pentecost" (Acts, Luke)
Remember to pray for our bishops as they preside at plenary sessions and at the Lord's table across the church in the upcoming annual conferences.