Engaging the Word: Readings for 5/17/15 (Seventh Sunday of Easter: Sunday after Ascension Day)

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By Barbara Klugh 

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1;  1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This is the last Sunday of the Easter season, is sometimes called “Expectation Sunday.” It occurs during the nine days between the Ascension of Christ and Pentecost.

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles, by Duccio (1260 - 1318). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles, by Duccio (1260 – 1318). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26: Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The apostles, along with certain women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus, returned to Jerusalem to the upper room and devoted themselves to prayer.

Saint Matthias (c. 1317 -319). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Saint Matthias (c. 1317 -319). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In this week’s reading, during this time of waiting and praying, Peter addressed the crowd of believers,  and referred to scripture that predicted Judas’ betrayal, death and replacement. Peter says  that Judas Iscariot’s replacement must be a long-term disciple and one who saw the resurrected Christ; two qualified candidates  are identified. The apostles prayed for God’s guidance, and cast lots, which was fairly common in the OT as a way of determining God’s will.  The lot fell on Matthias as the twelfth apostle.

According to Wikipedia, the number twelve, being the product of three  (holiness and love) and four (which indicated heaven as the throne of God), typified the union of the people with God. Think of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve members of our Vestry.

Psalm 1: The first psalm of the Psalter celebrates the life well lived by following God’s teaching and avoiding the ways of the wicked. It contrasts the two ways of life—the one taken by the righteous and the other by the wicked. The poem describes the happy people who delight in the law of the Lord: “They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall proper.” Not so with the wicked: “they are like chaff which the wind blows away….the way of the wicked is doomed.”

St. John Evangilist (c. 1635 - 36), by Francesco Furni. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. John Evangilist (c. 1635 – 36), by Francesco Furni. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 John 5:9-13: As I reflected on this week’s reading from First John, it was helpful for me to go back and review the letter’s original purpose. John wrote to encourage Christians to walk in God’s light and love during a time of church conflict. Erroneous  teachings of an early form of Gnosticism were creating confusion by denying Christ’s human nature, emphasizing “special knowledge,” and creating a false duality between the spiritual (good) and the material (evil).

John wanted his readers to stand firm on the foundation of their faith, by bringing them back to basics: The Son of God entered history as a physical human being; God is love and Jesus makes God’s love available to us; Salvation comes to the world through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of God’s Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.

In this week’s reading, John writes about God’s testimony of eternal life, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” And, “those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts.” We can choose life or death. It’s difficult for my 21st century mind to have this ancient text presented in such a black and white fashion. I understand and accept what John says as applicable for Christians, which was the audience John was writing to in c.100 AD. And I also trust in God’s merciful goodness for those who worship God in a different faith tradition or none at all. I trust that God is love. No exceptions.

John 17:6-19: In the Gospel of John, Chapters 14-17 comprise Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, in which Jesus gives his disciples final instructions and encouragement on the night before he was crucified. We read selections from the Farewell Discourse for the past two Sundays. On the  Seventh Sunday of Easter we always read a portion of Chapter 17, known as Jesus’ Farewell Prayer or High Priestly Prayer. In this prayer Jesus asks for glorification by the Father; he has completed the mission for which he was 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 recommend that you read the entire chapter, 17:1-26.

Fresco of the Ascension by Giotto (1266 - 1337). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Fresco of the Ascension by Giotto (1266 – 1337). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus made God’s name known to those the Father had given to him. Now the disciples recognize that the Father is the source of all that the Son has been given and that Jesus is from the Father. As he is leaving this world to return to the Father, he prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” He prays that the disciples will remain united like that of the unity of the Father and the Son. Jesus also prays, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but  I ask you to protect them from the evil one….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.”

As Jesus lifted up his High Priestly Prayer to the Father, now it is our turn to lift up the church, the world, and all in need in our daily prayers.

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