RCL Reflection, Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A
May 24, 2020
Lessons: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people learn from the first disciples that we’ve been given authority and power to be the hands, heart, feet, and eyes of Jesus in this world.
Key Scripture: “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.” –Acts 1:8
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” the disciples ask Jesus. “Above your pay grade and security level,” he responds. Well, actually he replies, “It is not for you to know the time or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” And then he is gone. Poof! Lifted up in a cloud, whisked away from their sight and presence.
Once again, their expectations are upended, their hopes seemingly squashed. Earlier, they had entered Jerusalem from Bethany coming down from the Mount of Olives into the City, following the historic path of the Messiah. They’d expected Jesus to do big things then, and he did, of course—just not what they were expecting. Instead of booting Herod off the throne and Rome out of Palestine, Jesus went without protest to a horrible political execution. He defied death and rattled the system’s cage but good, including once again shaking up his mostly clueless disciples. Now, after they’ve had time to think and readjust their expectations, they’re headed away from Jerusalem to the top of the Mount of Olives. They ask a simple question. Jesus gives a firm answer. And then he is gone.
Two divine beings in white robes ask them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to 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.” Can’t you hear the question forming in the disciples’ hive mind: “But when?” If they asked this or similar questions, Luke didn’t see fit to include them in Acts. We are told that they return to their room in Jerusalem and devote themselves to prayer, no doubt trying to regroup and figure out what to do next.
Hmmmm. Sounds strangely like a lot of us today as we look for the pandemic to ease so that we can emerge from our sheltering into the world. Some of us want to know definitely when it’s safe to emerge, and we’re willing to wait longer if it helps. Others are champing at the bit to return to some semblance of normal, to get out of houses and homes, return to work, and hopefully all will be well. Still others are already out of the starting gates, thoroughly over this situation of having their rights infringed and not caring who knows it. It’s possible that the whole range of emotions and experiences is represented among those in your faith community.
So how do we move forward into a world that is already a vastly different place? What can we do as humans to get it right, or at least better, this time around? What’s at stake? What would Jesus do?
The last question is easiest to answer, but the others deserve time, too. Jesus has already shown us what he would do. He sticks to his ministry plan and “tags” his closest followers as IT, as itinerant travelers (aka disciples) through this world bearing his love, seeing through his eyes, caring with his open arms, and grounded by his feet moving in prayer and action. It’s our turn now, and we are being equipped and are never alone. We are the ITs of our time and place. We’ve been tagged. We have holy work to do.
But hold on, sunshine! We’re not out of the COVID-19 woods yet. Things are still going to look a lot different, especially for the church, since our spiritual DNA is wired for gathering together. The church will look different, but then so will many other things about life. That said, we cannot, must not, and should not go back to the way life was a few months ago. Thankfully, COVID-19 has shown us that.
Let’s get ready folks. Go ahead. Go outside and gaze up into the heavens. You probably won’t find the Jesus of your imagination and experience. Maybe, however, the Jesus you’re looking for has been a poor substitute for the real deal all along. Maybe, just maybe, Pentecost (next week) will mean something a little different this year and set us on a new course. Look up in wonder and awe, pray, wait…and trust.
Invite worshipers to do some “Son and star gazing” during this week where we live in the tension between Ascension and Pentecost. What are their hopes and dreams for the church in general and your worshiping community in specific for Pentecost? Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill lives and hearts and breathe fresh winds of change through the church and the world.
Consider using with this lovely version of “The Blessing” recorded by South Africans in quarantine to bless their fellow citizens as your benediction.
Remember the television show The Simpsons? Whenever the family went on a long trip, Lisa and Bart would begin an endless litany of “Are we there yet?” Maybe you—and the youth with whom you work—are feeling more like Bart and Lisa than they’d care to admit. The problem is that we’re not there yet. While some areas may have the green light to reopen, there are more places that are still living with necessary common good restrictions and social distancing. This is difficult time and space for all of us, but it may be even more so for teens experiencing significant losses and milestones—graduations, proms, musical and theatrical performances, sports seasons, internships, and uncertainty about the future aplenty. No, they may not be experiencing some of the catastrophic losses and concerns that adults are feeling—job loss, health concerns, keeping a roof over the family and food on the table—but that in no way diminishes the experiences and losses that our teens are feeling. Give some time today to talking through highs and lows, praying for one another and for the world, and find some ways to laugh. After all, laughter is good medicine!
This week’s focus verse is 1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast all your anxiety on [Christ], because he cares for you.
What do you do when you feel anxious—you know, that unsettled feeling that can bring tears, fear, and worry bubbling up? I like to spend time with our cat. Zoey helps put life in perspective for me. She’s never too busy to play with her toys or beg for treats. She loves to “knead biscuits” on your chest and purr, and she truly lives in each present moment. As long as Zoey knows that her humans are nearby and that she has food and water, she is as chill as chill can be. I know that Jesus keeps his eye on even the smallest sparrow, so his eye is on Zoey, too. And me! And you! (Note: If your worship is via Zoom or other real time broadcast/meeting platform consider inviting families to share what they do to quell anxiety. Maybe teach them some simple breathing or self-calming exercises. You can find some here.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
We are told (We are told) to cast our anxiety on you, Jesus (to cast our anxiety on you, Jesus). Thank you for caring for us (Thank you for caring for us), and for loving us (and for loving us). Help me to trust (Help me to trust) and listen to you (and listen to you). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen),
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Thank you for continuing to give as you are able so that our ministries and our mission of sharing Christ’s love with the world. Your prayers, your offerings, and your creative service even while practicing social distancing is inspiring. Truly you are God’s hands, eyes, heart, and feet in this world.
Spend some time this week pondering how the disciples must have felt as once again they “hurried up and waited” for the next phase of the journey. Jesus was working in, through, and among them even though he’d already ascended from earth and the Holy Spirit had not yet come. This in-between space we’re in feels similar. If you are able, carve out extra prayer and listening time. How might you contribute to the spirit of Pentecost this year? What will you bring to this new world, this new reality, and a new church?
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/05/knit-together-as-one/
2014 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2014/05/wrapped-in-prayer/
Images: Kenny Uh and Johann Larsson, Creative Commons usage license.© Sychugina_Elena – Fotolia.com Thanks!
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