If you are treating this Sunday as 'Ascension Day' then head to last year's post re commentary on the readings.
Otherwise, following the readings from NZL 2014 for Sunday 1 June, we offer:
Theme(s): Ascension, Departure, Suffering for Christ, Unity, Prayer for disciples
Sentence: This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11)
Jesus Christ, you left your disciples,
only that you might send the Holy Spirit
to be our advocate.
Grant us the Spirit of truth
to convince the world that you are risen from the dead.
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
The ascension of Jesus is the departure of Jesus from everyday human experience of Jesus as a fellow human being, with whom meals could be eaten and conversations had. Our prime human reporter of the ascension as a specific event in history (i.e. one moment Jesus is present, the next he is not, after that there is no return) is Luke. To an extent Matthew is another witness as the ending of his gospel is consistent with a departure after the last speech of Jesus (28:16-20) but this witness is coloured by Matthew's variance from Luke as the former places the implied ascension in Galilee and the latter is very clear about it being on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Nevertheless an extraordinary connection is formed between the geographical variations across the two gospels when the disciples are addressed as "Men of Galilee" in 1:11.
From Luke's perspective, as narrator of what we could call "The Acts of Jesus" and its sequel "The Acts of the Holy Spirit," it is important to delineate the period of Jesus (conception to ascension) and the period of the Holy Spirit (anticipated in the life of Jesus as a man filled with the Holy Spirit, available to all believers from the day of Pentecost). This delineation occurs in chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles. With Jesus of Nazareth departed, the way is paved for the Holy Spirit to come in a visible and audible experience in Acts chapter 2.
For us, as followers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, inclined (it seems, from current experience) to celebrate Christmas, Easter and Pentecost in colourful, festive ways, what does Ascension mean? Do we properly value it?
At the heart of the theology of Ascension lie two important considerations.
One, touched on in verse 11, is the connection between departure and return. The Ascension of Jesus is a departure of significance in its own right (our only direct experiences of Jesus in visible form are the occasional visions of Jesus granted to some believers) but it is also a departure which underlines a promise and a prediction in Jesus' own teaching: one day he will return. We are now between the Ascension and the Second Coming. To commemorate the Ascension should be to anticipate the Second Coming.
Two, the Ascension as departure is also an event of conclusion. The whole extraordinary character of the life of Jesus from miraculous conception to notable birth to special commissioning through baptism by John and the Spirit to death and resurrection is now brought to a conclusion. Jesus remains alive but not present to us in any kind of physical sense. With the ascension we celebrate the end of the earthly life of Jesus.
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
The virtues of God as provider and protector of his people are praised in this psalm.
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Continuing through 1 Peter, today's reading returns to a key theme woven through this letter: participation in the sufferings of Christ. To suffer for and with Christ is 'blessed' (4:14) and thus Christians can appropriately 'rejoice' when suffering (4:13).
Yet Christians need a certain kind of vigilance (5:6-11). Life should be lived in such a manner as to not incur deserved suffering (4:15) and to avoid suffering that might be a consequence of giving in to the devil's wiles (5:8-9).
All of which is worthwhile (5:10-11). With such a God on our side, we can confidently 'cast all [our] anxiety on him because he cares for [us]' (5:7).
Verse 11 is key to understanding why we have this reading on the Sunday after Ascension:
'I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.'
John may not have a specific description of the event of ascension but he has a clear view of its occasion (see also 20:17).
This chapter is a final prayer of Jesus, sometimes called 'the high priestly prayer of Jesus.' Within the context of the gospel the content of the prayer is a masterful recollection of the great themes of the gospel (check out, for instance, words and phrases such as: glory, eternal life, sent, the hour has come, revealed, world, believe).
In continuation of our gospel readings in John through these weeks, the final verse reminds us of what is arguably the greatest theme in the gospel: the unity of the Father and the Son and the desire for unity between the disciples as a reflection of the continuity of divine life between God Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the disciples:
'... so that they may be one as we are one.'