May 16, 2021 – Seventh Sunday of Easter
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Message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Welcome to worship with Guildwood today, Ascension Sunday. May the presence of the ascended Christ fill our hearts and minds and souls this day and everyday.
Rev. Helen Smith
Call to Worship
You can listen to the audio recording of the Call to Worship with Rev. Helen Smith while consulting the text below (the audio is part of the Welcome message recording above); or just use the text below.
Jesus has ascended and a new world has broken into ours, a new community has been formed with the risen, ascended Lord at its heart, a community that loves and cares for all. Jesus has ascended. God’s new world has begun and all that was broken is being made whole. As did the disciples long ago, let us worship him with great joy.
Book of Praise – 466 “Praise the Lord with the sound of trumpet”
- Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Words and music by American composer Natalie Sleeth (1930–1992); words and music both copyright © 1976 Hinshaw Music Inc.
- Performed by Trinity Presbyterian Church York Mills, part of the PCC!
Prayers of Approach and Confession
God, creator, you have made us, and you love us, and have reached out to draw us to yourself. Jesus, life of the world, you have risen to reign in the hearts of all your people. Holy Spirit, comforter and power, you are present with us to equip us for holy and faithful living. God, in wonder and in joy, we praise your holy name.
Gracious God, forgive us for failing to grasp the wonder of Ascension, for living each day as though it had never been. Forgive the smallness of our vision, the narrowness of our outlook and the weakness of our love, the nervousness of our witness, our repeated failure to recognize the fullness of your revelation in Christ. Give us a deeper sense of wonder, a stronger faith and a greater understanding of all you have done and are doing.
We pray in the name of our risen and ascended Lord, and continue to pray as he taught:
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.
Assurance of Pardon
John reminds us in his vision that the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21: 5) Thanks be to God for the gift of new life.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Ah the Ascension. Forty days after Easter, Christians commemorate Jesus’ ascension into heaven. With my feet firmly planted on the ground, gravity doing its work, I find this a tough story to grasp. It is a tough story to grasp if we place it within what Biblical scholar, Marcus Borg, calls the time-space world, the visible material world disclosed to us by ordinary sense perception and modern science.
Like so many of the Bible’s stories, we can read the story of the Ascension as an historical event, even a public event, a “beam me up” story that would have been able to be seen by anyone. If CBC had existed back then, Ian Hanomansing would have broken in with “Breaking News.” But there are some problems with this.
First there is the fact that in Acts, the author of Luke/Acts speaks of the ascension as having occurred forty days after Easter. The number 40 often has a non-literal meaning in the Bible. It is a number that means a relatively long period of time.
A second clue is also suggested by the ascension in the gospel account (Luke) occurring the night after Easter, not forty days later. Did Jesus ascend twice? Probably not. Is the author unaware of the contradiction? Or is this another indicator that the author does not intend this story to be understood literally?
Another indicator: It presupposes a three-story universe. Within this conventional ancient worldview, heaven is “up above”, earth is in the middle, and hades/hell is “down below”. With the advances of science, our understanding of the universe has changed since Biblical times.
So perhaps the author of Luke/Acts does not see the ascension story as reporting a literally factual event.
So why is it here and what is it telling us?
The story, rather than recalling an historical event that took place on a particular day, at a particular time is more likely meant to be taken as a metaphor, a parable. It offers us more of a theological understanding than a historical moment.
The meaning of the Ascension is first and foremost that Jesus is with God. Jesus is no longer a flesh and blood reality. The physical, human person known as Jesus is gone. Now, Jesus is with God. And Jesus is no longer constrained by time and space as he was during his historical lifetime. In the flesh, Jesus could be just in one place at one time, the same as you and me. Now, just as God is everywhere, so Jesus is now everywhere. And like the God Jesus knew in his own experience, Jesus continues to be known in the experience of his followers.
Laura Alary has given us a helpful image in her book, “Breathe: A child’s guide to the Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time.” Laura writes:
“On the last Sunday of Easter
we hear the story of the Ascension.
That is a big word that means going up.
As we hear the story of how Jesus went back to God,
the storyteller lights a candle
then puts out the flame.
A curlicue of smoke rises,
then dissolves into the air.
I can smell it even after it disappears.
The light is still with us in some way,
but it is not the same.”
It reminds me of the image of the changing of the light, the Christ candle, at the end of our worship service (when we are able to have in-person worship). And the words the worship leader speaks are: “And now it is time to change the light. The light that was in one place and one time can now be in every place and any time, going with us wherever we go.”
That is why the disciples in today’s gospel reading are not sad after Jesus “leaves” them. Did you notice that? They return to Jerusalem with great joy. But they have just supposedly said good-bye to their beloved Jesus. Ah yes, but the one who was in one place and one time can now be in every place and anytime, going with us wherever we go. With this image we are taken from the physical level, Borg’s time-space world, into the spirit level, another dimension or layer or level of reality, charged with energy and power. We speak of the sacred and the profane, the holy and the mundane, God and “this world”, the spirit level and the physical level. This spirit level is not simply an article of belief, but an element of experience: for Christians, the experience we have of the presence of the ascended Jesus, with us in some way, but not the same, bringing those early disciples, and us, great joy. And, of course, there are many things we can do as companions of the changed light, with the changed light shining through us.
Just before the light changes, just before the Ascension, as recorded in the Book of Acts, Jesus tells the disciples that they are going to receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them (that is a story for next week), and they are to be witnesses, at home in Jerusalem, further afield in Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth. And just before this, the disciples have asked about restoring the kingdom to Israel, the good old days when Israel ruled. Jesus, once and for all, can you get rid of this Roman occupation? But for Jesus kingdom building is not a return to the glorious past of political dominance, or even a day of glory far off into the future. It is present now, among us, within us. It is found wherever the light is, where struggling people are given hope, the poor lifted up and the captives released. Those are the signs of the kingdom of God right here and now. It is a work in progress, something being formed.
And notice how the disciples ask, “Are you going to do this now, Jesus?” And he says, “Well, not exactly. You are going to do it.” His answer is to talk about their empowerment by the Spirit, how they will be his witnesses in ever-widening circles, as they carry the gospel out into the world. “Are you going to make your move, Jesus, while we come along for the ride?” “No, you are not passive spectators, passengers on this journey. You will be filled with the power of the Spirit. I will be with you in a new way. Together we will accomplish this work.”
You know, we are often like them, the disciples. We long for the good old days, wishing for our glory back again. We can live in the past, talking about the 50s and the 60s, when our churches were full, when we had some respect, when we had influence in the corridors of power and people listened when our leaders spoke. Oh, we want those days back.
And Jesus says to us, through the writer of Acts,
“You need to adjust your idea of what it means
to be the church in the world.
It is not about privilege and glory,
it is about service.
It is not about getting your way and being in charge,
it is about giving yourself away for the world around you.”
And anyway — those glory days? Were they really that glorious? Days with racism, sexism, colonialism, even worse than now? They were a leg on the journey, yes, but we keep moving on, discovering and rediscovering new ways of service, new ways to be prophetic, giving, caring, new ways, better ways, to let the changed light through. Maybe it is now, when people have a thousand other choices in their lives, and when they are searching here, there and everywhere for meaning and answers, maybe it is now that we have to be able to say, with more clarity and passion than ever, the joy we have in the light that has changed, the joy we have in the realm of the Spirit.
The Ascension. Jesus is present in a new way. Jesus is present and active in us, experienced through us so that we are his witnesses, through the quality of our living, through the generosity of our service, through the passion we have in telling the story of what God has done in our lives.
The Ascension. The light has changed. To use the language of Matthew’s Gospel, for Christians the risen and ascended Christ is indeed Emmanuel, “God with us.”
- “Crown Him with Many Crowns”. Words (1851) by British-Canadian hymnwriter Matthew Bridges (1800–1894) and Anglican clergyman and hymnwriter Godfrey Thring (1823–1903). Music (1868; tune “Diademata”) by English composer and organist Sir George Elvey (1816–1893). Words and music public domain. This arrangement copyright © 2017 Hal Leonard LLC ; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed on the keyboard by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling.
- Audio recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
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, 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 Dedication, Thanksgiving and Hope
Great God, with a sense of wonder that you entrust a part of your work to us in your church, we return these gifts to you. May every act of generosity in this offering be known as the presence of Jesus in the world.
We thank you, God, that through his Ascension, Jesus is set free to be Lord of all, no longer bound to a particular place or time, but with us always, able to reach even to the ends of the earth. And we give thanks, O God, for all the signs of the lordship of Jesus in our world today. For followers of Christ offering themselves in public office, for those who serve Christ in the civil service and other fields of public service, for all who seek to let Christ’s light shine through in the world of business, commerce and industry, for those who bring the loving, healing touch of Jesus to their work in the caring professions, for congregations quietly working to welcome refugees, to feed the people who are hungry, to house the people who are homeless, for teachers, parents and youth workers, celebrating your kingdom amongst the young, and for older people, facing the end of one stage of the journey and approaching in faith the next. They all seek to honour Christ; and we honour them.
We hold up to you, O God, the hearts where faith is sure, and the hearts where faith is hanging on by its fingernails, the times when opening ourselves up to the light of Christ is easy, and when it brings conflict, times when we trust, and times when we falter. May we work together to hold one another up, to feel your everlasting arms underneath us.
We pray for people who are abused and exploited, people who are lonely and unwelcome, for people who are sick and those who mourn. Especially we pray for those suffering because of the pandemic, whether in physical, mental or emotional pain, economic hardship, unspeakable grief. May the light of the risen, ascended Christ bring healing and wholeness.
We pray for areas where conflict is a reality and peace but a dream. Especially we pray for our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters, that a just peace will be found.
We pray for those discriminated against because of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation. Help us to live the truth that your love is for everyone.
We pray for healing for the earth. In all our deliberations and decision making, remind us of the sacredness of creation, and of our responsibility to care for it.
Hear us, we pray, through Christ, the risen and ascended one. Amen
Book of Praise – 371 “Love divine, all loves excelling”
- Video with on-screen words; minor differences with the words in the hymnbook.
- Words (1747) by English Methodist leader and hymn-writer Charles Wesley (1707–1788). Music (1844; tune: “Hyfrydol”) by Welsh musician Rowland Huw Prichard (1811–1887). Words and music in the public domain.
- This recording made by First-Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, on May 21, 2017.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Romans 15:13)
- “Go Now in Peace”. Words by American educator, lyricist and composer Don Besig (1936–) and American lyricist Nancy Price (1958–). Music by Don Besig. Words and music copyright © 1988 Harold Flammer Music, a division of Shawnee Press; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed by Rachelle Risling (keyboard) and the GCPC Senior Choir. Audio and video production by Rachelle Risling.
- Audio and video recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2021-05-15 12:20 – First version.