Worship Service for May 24, 2020

May 24, 2020 – Ascension Sunday

A message from the Rev. Helen Smith

Welcome message in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

Dear Friends, Happy Victoria Day.  I know we celebrated last Monday, but the old rhyme goes “The twenty-fourth of May is the queen’s birthday …” so I figure we can celebrate again today.  I figure we need to celebrate just about anything and everything we can these days.  In the church calendar it is Ascension Sunday — so Happy Ascension Sunday.  And as always, we provide these resources with the prayer that they will bring us together, when we are physically apart.

Rev. Helen Smith

“The Ascension” (1775) by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815). From the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; via the Wikimedia Commons.

Opening Hymn

Book of Praise – 23 “I waited for the Lord my God

  • Video with no on-screen lyrics.
  • Recorded by GCPC music director Rachelle Risling on the electronic keyboard on May 21, 2020.
  • You can follow along using the lyrics in your hymnbook, or the ones reprinted here:

Words to the hymn

Psalm 40
23 I waited for the Lord my God
[Tune – Balerma; metre 8 6 8 6 CM]

1. I waited for the Lord my God and patiently did bear;
at length to me God did incline, my voice and cry to hear.

2. God took me from a fearful pit and from the miry Clay;
God set my feet upon a rock establishing my way.

3. A new song now is in my mouth our God to magnify,
and many now will see and fear, and on the Lord rely.

4. How many are your wonders, Lord; none can compare with them,
your gracious thoughts to us beyond my power to proclaim.

Words: Psalm 40; paraphrase, Scottish Psalter 1650, alt. This version, copyright © The Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1997 (Book of Praise, Hymn 23, p 28); used by permission.
Music: François-Hippolyte Barthélémon (1741–1808). Public domain.

Prayers of Approach and Confession

Gracious, giving God, we gather, alone, yet together, by the power of your Spirit and we offer up this time, these words, our thoughts, and our feelings, to open ourselves up to you and to give you glory and praise.

We have not always lived our lives as your witnesses.  We focus on hopelessness and fear and selfishness.  We are ruled by schedules and our need for control. So we struggle in these times when schedules don’t work, and much is beyond our control.  We get impatient. We value the things we acquire and are frustrated when we can’t acquire more.  We forget that your reign draws near to us on earth as it is in heaven. Forgive the smallness of our vision, the weakness of our love, the nervousness of our witness.  Forgive us we pray.  Come Lord, and open in us the gates of your reign on earth.

We pray in Jesus’ name and continue to pray as he taught, saying:

Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

In the name of the reigning Christ we are forgiven.  In the name of the reigning Christ we are called to be his witnesses here and to the ends of the earth.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

The Peace

The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Scripture

Acts 1: 1–11 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible

Click here for additional scripture readings from today’s lectionary. Links courtesy of the Revised Common Lectionary, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Children’s Story

Christian Education Coordinator Laura Alary has recorded two videos on YouTube. She writes a short preface to each video.

“The first story for this week is The Mystery of Ascension from Children and Worship. This is the version of the story we would tell in the Worship Centre, so it is a good way to get a taste of how stories are presented to the youngest members of our congregation. I omitted the wondering time at the end, though people are welcome to do their own wondering at home.”

“The second story is Jesus Goes Away from Read, Wonder, Listen: Stories from the Bible for Young Readers (2018; written by Laura Alary, illustrated by Ann Sheng; published by Wood Lake Books; ISBN 9781773430416).”

Sermon

Famous last words —
          There is the poignancy of W. S. Gilbert (as in Gilbert and Sullivan)
                   Who is purported to have said
                             “I’m sorry to leave on such a lovely day.”
          Or the expectant mysticism of the preacher, Henry Ward Beecher
                   “Now comes the mystery.”
          Or my favourite — and it is probably apocryphal —
                   Oscar Wilde on his death bed —
                             “Either that wallpaper goes, or I go.”
With Jesus we usually think of “I thirst”,
or “Father forgive”,
or “It is finished” —
depending on which gospel we are reading —
But we are ignoring that weird and wonderful time after the resurrection,
          and before the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost,
culminating in what Luke records in his gospel and in the Book of Acts
          as the ascension.

The risen Christ is recorded as appearing in many ways to the disciples —
          and this ascension appearance marks the end of these appearances,
and there is to come the beginning of something new —
But just before this something new
we have this strange story of the in between times —
It is a story of liminal space —
          You know, in Cirque de Soleil,
when the trapeze artist lets go of one trapeze
and before they grab on to the next one —
          That is liminal space — transitional or transformative space.
It is a waiting area between one point in time and space and the next.
And when we are in liminal space
we often have the feeling of just being on the verge of something.
We can feel disoriented,
sense of ambiguity
and yes, maybe even anticipation.

Now when we read Luke’s accounts —
Either at the end of Luke’s gospel
or the beginning of the book of Acts —
of Jesus being taken up into the clouds —
it might have made perfect sense to those in the first century,
small, flat world, sun rising in the east — setting in the west.
But what about today —
when we know the world is round and a very small planet
in a very large system,
a planet that itself rotates and moves around the sun.
What does the ascension mean to us today?
However that happened –
Whether we see ourselves looking skyward,
or understand this time to be
a metaphorical sign of a change
in the way the disciples will relate to Jesus,
what is Luke telling us about this liminal space?

Look at the last words of Jesus that Luke gives us
in the 1st chapter of the book of Acts –
Luke records Jesus telling his disciples:
You will receive the Holy Spirit,
be baptized with its power
and be my witnesses wherever you go —
and for now you have to wait.
Don’t just do something, sit there.
Wait — not an easy thing for any of us to do.
We live in a fast paced,
instant oatmeal,
instant messaging world.
Waiting for something to happen is often accompanied by worry —
Waiting to hear about lab tests,
if we got the job,
if we have been accepted for that course,
Annoyance – waiting for the light to change,
waiting for spring to finally get here —
pandemic — always waiting —
waiting for curve to flatten, waiting for things to open up.
This is waiting as patience — or impatience —
putting in time until events run their course —
Waiting here for the apostles, is more than that —
it is preparation,
making ready for something that will happen,
reflecting, discerning.
Jesus says to the disciples
at this time of such change and confusion and significance —
          in this liminal space —
don’t just do something, sit there.
Wait for the Spirit.
Wait for God’s timing.
Then you will know what to do
and will be filled with the power to do it
A time of reflection and discernment.
A time too for prayer — opening ourselves up to God’s direction.
You know, in both testaments of the Bible
waiting and praying
are lifted up as the activities of a faithful people.
For us, in our age of computers and email and cell phones
and instant everything
we take on a sort of impatience
that can seep into everything.

In this climate, as people of faith,
we are going to have to work at this,
because any pause,
any time of quiet reflection
is going to be seen as somehow unproductive, even suspect.
To wait and pray today is a counter-cultural act,
but that retreat from all that bustle is more important now than ever
to reconnect with the One who is our source, our foundation,
the ground of our being.
Acts tells us that the period of Jesus resurrection appearances,
          The time between Easter and Ascension,
                   is 40 days.
Maybe if the Apostles had studied the commentaries
          they would have recognized that that’s biblical code
                   For a time leading to transition –
          40 days of rain to cleanse the earth
          40 years of wandering for the Israelites in the desert.
40 days in the wilderness of temptation for Jesus       
But we have noticed,
          And we recognize that in this in-between moment
                   when the apostles are waiting for the Spirit,
                             they are being formed and prepared for transition.
Can we see this time we have now in the same way?

From time to time, surely it is the task of the church to ask, 
          For what is God preparing us, right now?
          What are the challenges that lie ahead for us?
          Where do we feel God is nudging us?

During times such as these
          Maybe the most faithful response of the church
                   Is not to do something, but to sit there.
          To wait and pray,
          To give ourselves to a time of discernment,
          To listen for the voice of God nudging us, shaping us
                   Preparing us for when we will need to act.
Today, on Ascension Sunday,
          When one great chapter in salvation history draws to a close
                   And another is about to be born,
          We wait.
Today is the pregnant pause
before the wind blows the shutters off the house
          and knocks us right off our feet.

Ascension is a waiting time,
          That moment between Easter and Pentecost
                   When the whole church holds its breath
                             To see what God’s next move will be;
          The time between the ministry of Jesus
                   And the equipping of the Holy Spirit.
The time when we are called to wait in faith.

It means to remember that the wonder of God’s love and presence,
          revealed so strikingly on the cross and in the empty tomb
                   still has in store for us fresh surprises of joy and inspiration.
It means to be patient, and not take matters into our own hands
          but to wait for the infilling of the Holy Spirit
                   who will equip us for that work.
It means to wait and pray until we sense some direction from the Spirit,
          until the time is ripe.

And then, in the fullness of God’s time,
          inspired and empowered,
We are called to seize the moment for God,
          to step out in confidence, grab the next trapeze —
and accomplish something great,
for the glory of God.

Amen.

“Ascension” (ca. 1303–1305), by Giotto, a fresco at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. Image courtesy the Wikimedia Commons.

Musical Meditation

“Open my eyes, that I may see”, performed on the piano on May 22, 2020, by Rachelle Risling, Music Director of GCPC.

Taken from the “Book of Praise” (Hymn 500, p 654, Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1997). Music: Tune “Open My Eyes”, with metre 8 8 9 8 with refrain, by American composer Clara H. Scott (1841–1897), in the public domain. This arrangement: copyright © 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.

Offertory

We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online via our CanadaHelps page, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope

God whose giving knows no ending, we thank you for the many blessings of our lives.  We thank you for friends and family, for the ability to stay connected when we are apart.  We give thanks for our church family, for the elders, for the caregivers, for all who are working to keep us together. We thank you for the Search Committee, continuing their work under difficult circumstances, and we pray that you will bless their efforts.

We thank you that through his ascension, Jesus is now set free to be Lord of all, no longer bound to a particular time or place but with us always.  Help us to be his witnesses here in Guildwood, in Toronto, in Canada and to the ends of the earth.

We thank you for the beauty of creation, for the time we have to enjoy it these days, for the healing of the earth.  And we pray that you will help us to contribute to that healing in the way we live our lives.

We thank you for our governments, for their efforts to see us through this pandemic.  We thank you for the essential workers, for those working in health care, and providing food for our tables. And we pray for them continued courage and strength.

We pray for those who are ill, facing surgery, for those whose care is now palliative.  We pray for your touch of healing and wholeness in all of these people who are struggling with issues of body, mind, soul.  We pray for those who are hungry, those who are homeless.  Help us to do what we can to provide the essentials of life.

We are concerned about all the divisions we see around us, many laid bare in response to the pandemic. Communities are torn apart by suspicion and discrimination. People are judged severely by race and ethnic origin.  Send your Spirit of healing and reconciliation to open hearts filled with prejudice and ease the lives suffering its effects.

We give thanks for this time of waiting, of reflection, of anticipation.

Risen and ascended Christ, when we are numbed by the suffering of the world, take us back to the deep truth of your power and glory, of your invincible reign, of your promise of reconciliation.  In the knowledge of this truth help us to bring our gaze to earth and find the strength to do your will on earth as in heaven, to build the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven.  We pray in your name, Amen.

Closing Hymn

Book of Praise – 662 “Those who wait on the Lord

  • Video with no on-screen lyrics.
  • Recorded by GCPC music director Rachelle Risling on the electronic keyboard on May 21, 2020.
  • You can follow along using the lyrics in your hymnbook, or the ones reprinted here:

Words to the hymn

Hymn 662 Those who wait on the Lord
[Tune – EAGLE’S WINGS; Irregular metre]

1, 6. Those who wait on the Lord…

Chorus
…shall renew their strength;
they shall rise up on wings as Eagles;
they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint:
help us, Lord; help us, Lord, in your way.

2. Those who serve the suffering world… [Chorus]

3. Those who live the risen life… [Chorus]

4. Those who love the Mystery… [Chorus]

5. Those who die on the march… [Chorus, then back to verse 1]

From the Book of Praise (The Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1997), p 846.
Words: traditional; public domain.
Music: John L. Bell (1949–). Arrangement copyright © WGRG  The Iona Community (Scotland). Used by permission of G.I.A. Publications Inc., exclusive agent. All rights reserved.
Music recording by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.

Commissioning and Benediction

Benediction in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN (Romans 15:13)

Danish Choral Amen. Book of Praise 780. Music director Rachelle Risling (keyboard); Robert Quickert (vocals). Click triangle at left to begin listening.