This Sunday is Ascension Sunday, a day that is not particularly recognized or highly anticipated in our culture at large. I doubt anyone woke up this morning saying, “Yay! It’s almost Ascension Sunday!” But, despite that fact, it’s a day that is special…significant in the life of the church. Luke writes about the ascension of Jesus into heaven, his return back to God, both at the end of the gospel of Luke and at the beginning of Acts. Curiously, these accounts are somewhat different. In Luke, it seems as if Jesus is raised from the dead and ascended to heaven in a short period of time, possibly on the same day. In Acts, we are told explicitly that Jesus stayed with the disciples for forty days. That number forty should ring a bell…forty years for Israel in the wilderness, forty days for Moses on the mountaintop, forty days for Jesus to fast before the temptation. The number forty is often more symbolic than literal in the Bible. And in these “forty days,” Jesus continued to prepare his disciples for his departure and for their next steps…waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the One who would empower them and send them to the “ends of the earth.” You can read Luke’s first account of the ascension above. On Sunday, we’ll spend time with the second account of the ascension from Acts, reflecting on that head scratcher of a question asked by the “two guys in white” who appear after Jesus is taken up: “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?”
We continue with our dual opportunities for 9:00 am worship on-line and in the Fellowship Hall. We are week by week modifying our gathering in Fellowship Hall and this week we’ll introduce the first live element, the sermon. No reservations are required to attend the Worship Watch Party on campus but all will be asked to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines and if we have more people than can safely be in the Fellowship Hall, we’ll seat people outside with an audio feed of the service. This Sunday is also our first Courtyard Communion Service. These casual services will be on the 3rd Sunday of the month at 2 in the courtyard. All are invited to bring a lawn chair and share in this time of fellowship and communion. (But if you don’t have a lawn chair, come anyway! We’ll get you a seat!)
I hope you’ll join us for worship this Sunday, online or in person, as we offer our praise and thanks to God, as we connect with God’s love, community and call and as we explore our faith together. You are also invited to join the Wednesday Bible Study that reviews the scripture and sermon topic from the previous Sunday and reflects on the questions of the week. If you’re interested in joining us from 11:30 to 12:30 on Wednesdays, please reach out to the church office or Pastor Lori for more details.
Acts 1:1-11 (NRSV)
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 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.”
Questions to consider:
- What’s your theory about why Luke’s two accounts of the ascension differ?
- What is significant about this step of Jesus returning to God…why is the ascension important?
- What do you imagine the disciples were feeling and thinking on this day of the ascension?
- What are “next steps” for you? For our faith community at PBUMC?
- What is the invitation or word of grace for you in this text?