Engaging the Word: 5/28/17 (The Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after Ascension Day)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10. 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:5-11; John 17:1-11. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. The Sunday between Ascension Day and Pentecost is sometimes called “Expectation Sunday.” This is the time when the followers of Jesus devote themselves to prayer while they wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Ascension of Christ by Benvenuto Tisi, c. 1515. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ascension of Christ by Benvenuto Tisi, c. 1515. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Acts 1:6-14: In this week’s reading, we see the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and his ascension into heaven. In the first verses of the Book of Acts, Jesus told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are “baptized with the Holy Spirit, not many days from now.” The disciples are confused—they ask Jesus if this is when he will restore the kingdom to Israel. They are thinking of a political kingdom. Jesus tells them it’s not their business; the Father will make that decision. Meanwhile, they are to witness for Jesus from Jerusalem outward to the ends of the earth.

“When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud [a sign of God’s glory] took him out of their sight.” Then two men in white robes appear. 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 [in glory].”

The apostles then returned to Jerusalem and, along with other followers, devoted themselves to prayer in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The group included Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36: Attributed to David, this week’s psalm praises God as a mighty victor over his enemies and calls others to praise him. Commentaries say Psalm 68 is the most difficult psalm in the Psalter; scholars do not agree on what kind of poem it is. Commentators speculate that the psalm may have been a communal thanksgiving, a processional hymn sung as the Ark was carried into Jerusalem, an index of first lines, or a collection of fragments or snippets centered on the idea of the theophany (manifestation of God).

The portions we are reading are a tribute to God (v 1-10), and a call for all to sing praises to God for his power and majesty (v 33-36).

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11: This is our sixth and final week of reading from 1 Peter, a letter to first-century

Ivory depiction of lion eating a man, excavated from Nimrud, Iraq. British Museum. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ivory depiction of lion eating a man, excavated from Nimrud, Iraq. British Museum. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Christians in Asia Minor who were being persecuted for their Christian faith. In this week’s reading Peter calls the persecution a test—a test of faith, in the sense of being willing to suffer and sacrifice for one’s faith. But persecution is also a test of the strength of Christian witness. The ones who accommodate themselves to the world will escape persecution, and the ones who do not compromise will suffer.

Peter says that suffering is a cause for rejoicing, because it means one is sharing Christ’s sufferings. “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.”

Peter concludes with a series of exhortations for faithful Christian living: Humble yourselves before God, 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.” Know that in the end, God “will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”

Peter held himself to same high standard. Origin, an early Christian theologian wrote: “Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer.” This is why an upside down cross is generally accepted as a symbol of Peter, with the interpretation that he would not have considered himself worthy enough to die the same way as his Savior.

Head of Christ by Rembrandt, c. 1648. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Head of Christ by Rembrandt, c. 1648. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

John 17:1-11: The past two Sundays have been selections from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, in which he gave his disciples final instructions and encouragement. This week we read a portion of 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.”

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.

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 as part of our daily prayers.

 

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