The Seventh Sunday of Easter (June 5, 2011)

Lessons Acts 1:6-14 Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 1st Peter 4:12-17, 5:6-11 St. John 17:1-11

Prayer of the Day O God of glory, your Son Jesus Christ suffered for us and ascended to your right hand. Unite us with Christ and each other in suffering and in joy, that all the world may be drawn into your bountiful presence, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 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.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

The Acts of the Apostles 1:6-14, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Devoted, Prayerful Preparation

Most Bible students consider this passage the “Table of Contents” for the Book of Acts. When Jesus teaches his disciples that they will be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” he lays out the basic direction that this book, “The Acts of the Apostles,” will take. The church has long read this text on the “Ascension of Our Lord” — a Thursday feast, set some forty days after Easter Sunday — a day when we remember Jesus’ last meeting on earth with his disciples, before ascending to heaven to be with God.

This Spring, of course, we can’t help but notice that the disciples ask the question so many have been asking in our world these past three weeks: “Is it time for the end?” The Lord’s answer, as true now as it was then, is to tell them, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” (as if we needed any more encouragement in that department…)

After this brief exchange, Jesus is lifted up before their very eyes, and a cloud blocks their view of him. The departure of Jesus is significant in this story. His ministry is not complete, of course. The Messianic age has not been fully ushered in. There are still many who have not yet come to believe. In fact, one could make the case that the ascension of Jesus to heaven is much closer to the beginning of the story than to the ending. But the disciples can’t possibly have known this. All they know is that the euphoria they experienced upon realizing that death couldn’t hold Jesus is now quickly extinguished, as they hear him announce that he is leaving, and as they watch him disappear.

I love the image of these grown men, staring at the sky in bewilderment and confusion. Not able to make any sense of what they have heard and seen, they stand like statues, completely puzzled. At which point two “men in white robes” (read angels) appear to them. They announce that there is nothing left to look at, but that Jesus will eventually return in the same way that he left.

So they leave. And if you or I had written the story, they probably would leave to continue the ministry Jesus began among them. Healing the sick. Casting out demons. Calling people to repentance. Granting forgiveness. Proclaiming the good news… But no, they do exactly the opposite. They return to Jerusalem, make their way back to the upper room where they are staying — where so much has already happened — and once there they are constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and the brothers of Jesus.

The urgent nature of the moment doesn’t propel them into a flurry of activity. Instead, they gather together, they devote themselves to prayer, and they wait. Sometimes we read this as a faithless waiting — a gathering in safety out of fear. But perhaps this is a misunderstanding. As the first chapter of Acts tells the story, they are not trembling in fear. They are constantly devoting themselves to prayer. They are searching the depths of God’s mysterious presence. They are yearning to discover their true purpose. They are striving to learn how Jesus, now gone, will continue to lead them.

Can we learn from them? It just might be that the true calling of the church is not, first, to be racing into the streets in a flurry of activity; but to precede that activity by devoting ourselves to prayer, determined in our attempts to discover God’s call in our lives.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do Jesus’ last words to the disciples mean?
  2. How do the words of the angels help them to understand what is happening?
  3. What does “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” look like for them?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does Jesus’ call to me entail?
  2. How might a constant devotion to prayer help me better understand my call?
  3. How might I be more focused on prayer, as I seek God’s will for me?