Readings for Ascension Sunday
Once again, we are reminded by the Psalmist of the glory of God on this Ascension Sunday, ‘Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth! God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God; sing praises. For God is seated on his holy throne. He is greatly exalted.’ (Ps 47)
Gospel Reading: Luke 24:44-53 Jesus commissions and blesses the disciples
24 44 Jesus spoke with the apostles, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen. 1
First Reading: Acts 1:1-11 Jesus’ ascension, promise and commission
1 1The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He, through the Holy Spirit, had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” 2
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23 Christ is the supreme Lord over all things
15 I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 and I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Sermon for Ascension Sunday
The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Luke writes that Jesus ‘opened their minds to understand these many Scriptures. And Jesus said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the third day. With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.’ ” ’
Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving Lord, Jesus Christ; on this Ascension Sunday we turn our hearts to you, to be touched with the message of your majesty and glory, and to be encouraged to believe and share the reality of salvation in You, even in our imposed isolation. Bless our time together in our homes as we wait for the full lifting of restrictions, as we hold onto our faith that You are always with us. We pray in Your name, Lord Jesus, because You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
Rick Warren in his booklet, ‘What on Earth Am I Here For’, tells us that the ‘purpose of our life is far greater than our own personal fulfilment, our peace of mind, or even our happiness. It’s far greater than our family, our career, or even our wildest dreams and ambitions. If we want to know why we were placed on this planet, we must begin with God. We were born by his purpose and for his purpose’. I was reminded of these words this past week, as I sat overlooking the ocean at Town Beach. Just enjoying the opportunity to be out and about, although with appropriate distancing. It was wonderful.
Christ Jesus expressed to the Disciples why he was born into humanity and lived among us. “Yes it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the third day. … There is forgiveness of sins for all who will turn to me.”
Sometimes, I think we get a bit confused about the purpose of our lives, especially separated from our Christian brothers and sisters of our Worshipping Community at St Peter’s. Just why God has set us on the journey of faith that we find ourselves. We do have lots of purposes while on this journey – to earn a living, to be a good son or daughter, to be a caring mother or father or spouse, to be a responsible citizen and member of our worshipping community, to be an active retiree – those are all good purposes.
To look for ways to help other people, and to make this world a better place – those are good purposes too. But, as Rick Warren tells us, there’s something deeper. Something more spiritual that is keeping each of us engaged on our journey. In that thought, I would expand on the words of the Angels who encountered the Disciples at Bethany. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
It occurs to me that we should look to the ascended Christ. That we should keep at least some of our attention devoted to Christ Jesus, at the centre of the Kingdom, present in our lives and revealed in his purpose for our lives. The other purposes we devote ourselves toward are good, and they reveal God’s blessings as we seek to fulfil them. But our deeper, more spiritual purpose can be found in the reading for today: We “are witnesses of these things.” As Peter encourages us, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’ (1 Peter 3:15 NIV84)
We do this with our attitudes, actions and words that demonstrate the love that God gives us to share with each other. Having conversations with people who are open to listen and to hear about the deeper things of life. The reality that Jesus Christ entered humanity for us. That He died on a cross for us. That He has taken away our sins. That He ascended to the right hand of God the Father, as our intercessor. That someday he will come back, to usher in a perfect eternity.
That’s amazing stuff to share. God wants us to be witnesses of those things to others. The bad news is that so many in this world will never want to know or even hear this. The better news is that God’s Holy Spirit will lead us to someone in our lives who will want to listen and to hear. The best news is that Christ Jesus is with us to give us courage when this happens.
After talking with his disciples, Christ Jesus performed one last visible miracle for them. ‘He lifted up his hands to bless them. And then he ascended into the sky, right before their eyes, and eventually, he was hidden by a cloud.’
And so what did the disciples do? We are told in the Gospel that ‘they worshiped Christ Jesus, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.’
How wonderful this is. The disciples who would have been hiding in the upper room, afraid. Now, are out in public, worshiping Jesus, filled with joy. They had seen Jesus victoriously ascend to his heavenly throne. There was no doubt in their minds anymore that he was Lord of the universe, the King of heaven and earth. They had heard two angels tell them that someday, Jesus would return on the clouds, just as they had seen him go. They remembered the words of Christ Jesus, “With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.”
I am convinced that’s what filled them with joy. Even the angry Jewish leaders couldn’t keep the disciples from displaying their joy in the temple courts. After all, nothing ‘in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:39 NIV)
We’re all looking for a sense of joy in our life – a deeper, longer-lasting sense of joy. Especially after our long separation from family and friends. We can all look where the disciples looked. Look to Christ Jesus. Worship Him. And get on with our other purposes of life with a sense of joy and confidence. To be sure, there will be times in every life when we are upset. Things will happen that will frustrate us and drive us to anger; sadden us, even depress us. But for us, as Christians, underneath all that, we will find a layer of peace that the world can’t take away. As Christians, we can say. “All my sins have been taken away by Christ Jesus. I know I’m forgiven. I know that by his Holy Spirit, God will work my problem out too. I know that God will give me the strength I need for now. This world is broken, but I’ll be right. Just let me trust in Jesus Christ, risen to life and ascended to the right hand of God the Father.”
That’s Christian joy. The disciples had it after they saw Jesus Christ ascend. May God give that same kind of joy to each of us. Jesus accomplished his mission among us, by his death on our behalf, and his resurrection for our victory. Then He returned to his rightful place at the centre of God’s Kingdom. To be the beacon that resets every sense of direction on our journey.
This celebration of the Ascension today reminds us that believers the world over are missing out on the privilege of knowing Jesus as he was known in history to his disciples. At the same time, we are reminded that by his Holy Spirit, Christ Jesus is able to make himself known and vitally present to so many at the same time than would have been possible for Christ Jesus in human form.
So, even as our Easter season of celebration comes to an end, the joy of our salvation continues each and every day, as we live out our new lives in Christ Jesus and cry out for the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father.
So, the grace and peace of our Triune God keep our hearts and minds focused on our ascended Lord and Saviour. AMEN.
Rev David Thompson