Sunday 24th May
7th Sunday of Easter and the Sunday after Ascension Day
The twenty-first of May 2020 was Ascension Day, had we been able to meet together as a congregation, we would have marked it on Sunday 24th May. Many other congregations would surely have done the same - or would they? For some it is recognised as a day of great significance in the Christian year; for others it will pass by without notice. Can we and should we make something special out of Jesus’ ascension? What is lost if we skip past it without a mention? Can we get from Easter to Pentecost without reference to Ascension? In recent years, the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ event has grown in importance and 2020 will be its fifth run. Brought into being with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and styled as a ‘global wave of prayer,’ it runs each year from Ascension to Pentecost. It is explicitly ecumenical and last year was celebrated by Christians from many streams and in 85 countries across the globe. Might it be a way for more congregations to deepen their corporate prayer life, to strengthen their commitment to evangelism and, in so doing, to more fully recognise the importance of Christ’s ascending to glory? You can read an account of the Ascension in Acts 1: 1 – 11
Lord of the mountain,
We look up
And You come down
To speak your word.
Lord of the cloud,
You go up,
And we return to the city
To share your word.
Lord of the cloud and fire
You go with us
By day and by night
And your word becomes flesh in us.
Forgive us when our words
Have not enfolded your love
And we have remained silent
When your word
Had the power to heal and renew.
Forgive us when we have not
Acted as your faithful servants.
Lord, bless us at this Ascension time
With the gift of your Holy Spirit,
That we may never be alone,
Whether the news is good,
Or the news is bad,
For in your company
We will find love which lives in us forever,
Through the same Jesus Christ,
Our risen and ascended Lord.
Let’s continue our prayer by praying together the words of the Lord’s Prayer…
Our Father, who art I heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power and the glory
For ever and ever,
Readings 1 Peter 4: 12 – 14, 5: 6 – 11
John 17: 1 – 11
We know from historical records that beginning with the Emperor Nero, who reigned for 13 years from AD54 to AD68, the early church was severely persecuted. Peter could see that this fiery trial was about to erupt upon the Christians; perhaps he even foresaw that the blood of the martyrs would be the seed that would bring the church into an era of massive growth across the known world and beyond. He may have already had a copy of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi and had read that Paul recognised the secret of the power of Christ’s resurrection was somehow linked to sharing in His sufferings, and becoming like Him in His death (Philippians 3:12). Be that as it may, he certainly believed that persecution for righteousness’ sake was sharing in the Lord’s sufferings. Notice however that he regarded persecution as a ‘test’. The Greek word translated ‘test’ can also mean ‘temptation’. The context makes it clear in which sense it is being used, for when it means ‘test’ or ‘trial’, it is the hand of God drawing us closer to Godself. On the other hand, when it means ‘temptation’ it is the tempter, the ‘father of lies’, seeking to draw us away from God. Self-evidently, here ‘test’ means trials that will bring us closer to our Lord as we are driven back into that loving embrace to keep and sustain us in ‘the evil day’. That is clear from verse 14: ‘If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.’ The second part of the passage - 5:6-11 gives us verses are full of wise counsel – ‘humble yourselves…; cast all your anxiety on him…; discipline yourselves, keep alert…; be sober-minded and watchful…’ Along with these most solemn warnings against the intrigues of the tempter, referred to figuratively as ‘roaring lion’, there is immense comfort and reassurance for troubled believers in Peter’s final words: ‘the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.’ God is faithful and will keep God’s children to the end.
In our passage from John’s gospel this week, we find what is known as the ‘High Priestly Prayer’, Jesus shares with His Father the burden He is carrying as He faces Gethsemane betrayal and trial, crucifixion and then resurrection and ascension. All of this is implicit in John 17. Verses 1 to 3 summarise what we might call Jesus’ ‘job description’—and what an amazing task Jesus had been entrusted to undertake. Jesus refers explicitly to His presence with God prior to incarnation: ‘Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.’ Jesus then commits His followers to the Father’s care and keeping. All has been of God, even the teaching that has been given had been first given to Jesus from the Father, before He had passed it on to His beloved disciples (see John 8:28-29.) So, what is Jesus asking the Father to do? Two things are mentioned. First, that God would preserve them: ‘protect them in Your name’; second, this is in order that they may be always united: ‘that they may be one, as we are one’. Jesus also anticipates His resurrection and ascension when He says, ‘And now I am no longer in the world.’ Perhaps it may be a rebuke to some of us that Jesus’ prayer contains only two requests. It is mostly an unburdening of His heart in His Father’s presence. That is not to say that you and I should not bring many requests to our heavenly Father. Rather is to question whether we spend enough time in our praying sharing the burdens and desires of our hearts with our heavenly Father. The implicit intimacy between the Father and the Son is perhaps an example for us in our personal devotions. ‘Shopping list’ prayers are easy and cost us very little. Opening our hearts to God is much more demanding – and rewarding!
We bring to God our prayers for the Church and for the world,
Lord, we begin by praying for our families, our friends, and our neighbours –
Those who are close by to us
And those we have not seen for a while due to corona virus lockdown.
We may not know the details of their situations
but we believe that You do and so we lift them before You now.
Lord, we pray for our congregations and for neighbouring congregations in our Presbytery,
As we all seek to find new ways of worship
And new ways of doing things to further the mission of your church.
Bless all those who minister, in whatever capacity.
Send Your Spirit, we pray, to revive and renew your Church.
Lord, we pray for our community – the community you have called us to serve.
We bring before You those who are suffering and struggling,
those who are lost and lonely,
those who see no light at the end of the tunnel.
Those who are sick or suffering in any way,
Those who mourn the loss of a loved one.
Especially to day – at the end of Mental health week –
We remember those who struggle with mental health issues,
Those who have been affected by the lockdown situation,
Those who care for them day by day.
May they know the comfort of your presence in their lives.
Lord, we pray for our nation –
for those who are in positions of responsibility and authority.
Guide them and grant them wisdom
that their leading might be according to Your will
and always with the greater good in mind.
Lord, for our world we pray – in all its brokenness and pain.
Where there is hatred, we look for love.
Where there is pain, we look for healing.
Where there is division, we look for unity.
We look for the coming of Your Kingdom
and we commit ourselves to working for the coming of Your Kingdom.
All our prayers we ask in Jesus’ name.