Date: Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2021
Texts: Acts 1:12-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11b-19
Context: The lectionary designates this the final Sunday of the season of Easter. While technically accurate, it’s unfortunate that by falling on Thursday, the Ascension of our Lord is generally overlooked by the Church. The readings emphasize our relationship to our resurrected and ascended Lord, while carefully avoiding explicit discussion of the Holy Spirit that become more liturgically appropriate next Sunday with Pentecost. The first reading picks up directly after Jesus’ ascension.
Acts 1:12-26 – Jesus has ascended and told his disciples again that they will be his witnesses. Already we see the disciples beginning to make connections in Scripture, drawing from Psalm 69:25 for Peter’s first quote and interpretation of Scripture (at this point still just what we call the Old Testament). The context of the psalm is one of judgment against those who have plotted against God’s people, calling on God to punish them for their unfaithfulness, certainly not a stretch in regards to Judas and his betrayal. Likewise Peter’s second quote of Psalm 109:8 again picks up on themes of judgment against someone who behaves falsely. The disciples feel it necessary to restore their number to the one picked by Jesus himself – 12. There are others who have followed Jesus since the beginning even though they were not reckoned official disciples or at least members of the 12. Matthias is not mentioned again in Scripture, though Barsabbas is likely referenced in Acts 15:22. We should presume based on lack of further information these served faithfully as designated.
Psalm 1 – The opening of the psalter is a call to God’s Word, which will be the theme of the entire psalter. God’s Word and it’s reliability and necessity for all good things forms a constant theme that is established here in the first psalm. Two options are laid before the reader – either listening to the ill advice of the world that scorns and mocks God and his Word, or delight in God’s Word and way. The proper choice is dealt with first. Obedience to God’s Word forms a bedrock into which our roots may grow reliably and which will provide us with lifegiving water to sustain us in all times and situations. The wicked are not so, and their shallow roots will prove insubstantial and inadequate, leading to the decay of the person as a whole until they are no more substantive than chaff, the flimsy covering over heads of grain which must be blown away by the wind because it’s worthless. While the world may seem to run by it’s own rules where evil goes unpunished and virtue is a victim, God oversees all things and can be trusted to ensure things come out right in the end. Language of the tree is interesting also in light of Genesis and Revelation, which respectively begin and end with a significant tree.
1 John 5:9-15 – John concludes his letter where he left off last week, talking about witnesses and testimony. How is it we believe what we believe? Human sources are of some value, John admits, but divine testimony is far superior to human. We think of the Father’s affirmation of Jesus at his baptism or on the mount of Transfiguration. Repeatedly God the Father made clear his testimony regarding his Son. Will we believe him or not? If we do not believe him we call him a liar – either He is not who He claims to be or his testimony about Jesus is a lie. There is no in between. Trusting the Father’s testimony about the Son means believing it is through the Son we have eternal life. John has crafted his writing (just this letter, or does he include his Gospel as well here?) in order to build and support faith in the one who reads and hears it. What greater or more important reason could there be to write? What subject more eternally important and imminently of greatest consequence? We should read and hear then in this understanding – to simply enjoy the pleasantness of John’s words is useless and dangerous. Rather, as we listen and read we should pray that either faith is established or affirmed. This is John’s goal and it should be ours as well!
John 17:11b-19 – As Jesus prepares to depart for his ordeal, He prays for his disciples’ protection. He had afforded them direct, physical protection during his time with them, and John’s gospel records examples where Jesus is threatened, and we might assume by extension his disciples are as well (John 8, 10). Now his direct physical presence will no longer be with them. Because they bear his Word, they can expect to be hated by the world just as He has been – the danger is real. We might expect Jesus would wish to spare his friends the suffering they will endure, and remove them from the world and those threats. But this is not what Jesus desires. It is not what is needed – they are to be his witnesses. He prays for their physical protection, but this is grounded in the larger and deeper reality of their sanctification. Their sins have been forgiven – they are now holy, made holy by the sacrifice Jesus is about to make.
We should expect that the Holy Spirit of God is with us today as it was with the disciples 2000 years ago. This presence should not be thought of as some sort of protection or ward against the troubles and difficulties of life – let alone the express hostility of those who reject Christ. However we should stand firm in whatever trials and tribulations befall us, knowing we have been sanctified by Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection. Eternity in his joy and presence await us, and should inform the witness we bear here and now.