The Ascension of Our Lord Thursday, May 30
Psalms 47 and 93
Acts 1: 1 – 11
Ephesians 1: 15 – 23
Luke 24: 44 – 53
for Sunday, June 2, 2019
Acts 16: 16 – 34
Revelation 22: 12 – 21
John 17: 20 – 26
I thank you all for meeting with me in Elk Run Cemetery, this past Sunday.
I am aware that a lot of people can’t help but feel uncomfortable around a cemetery. It does not bother me at all. This is partly because I fully trust that Jesus Christ is victorious over death, so the dead cannot harm us, his people. Also, Elk Run is a special cemetery because of the church site at its base. Bethel is no better than the many churches that are surrounded by their old burying grounds. If we had a cemetery by our own building, it would not give any good reason for anybody to avoid worshiping there.
On Sunday, we sang ‘Shall We Gather at the River.”
It’s true, that there is a popular connection between this song and funerals. But the words tell a happy vision straight out of the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation. Its composer, Robert Lowry, wrote it on a very hot afternoon in July, 1864, when he was serving a church in Brooklyn, New York City. Heat and exhaustion cranked up Lowry’s imagination, and the scenes described in the Revelation to John passed vividly before his eyes.
In Revelation chapter 22, the prophet John says,
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,
bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
through the middle of the street of the city.
On either side of the river is the tree of life
with its twelve kinds of fruit,
producing its fruit each month;
and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Nothing accursed will be found there any more.
This is such a beautiful picture— we can all appreciate it.
If we take a moment to consider the day-to-day reality faced by ordinary people in John’s time, this vision of heavenly, pure, clear water becomes even more precious. In those days, the wealthiest and most powerful people commanded the high places in the towns and cities. They arranged for supplies of clean water for themselves, with the help of the best engineering available, plus servants at their command to fetch water from protected wells and springs. Meanwhile, everyone’s sewage flowed in the public streets… downhill. It flows downhill from the good real estate to the bad, making it hard for the less-well-off to have any clean water at all— plus, passing the filth and diseases of the mighty and rich down to the poor.
How glorious, then, that in God’s City, the pure, clean water is freely available to everybody. Not only that, but God’s gift of water also irrigates the Trees of Life, helping them produce free medicine for all people. It is not God’s will that only a few should enjoy the pure blessings of creation, while the many get crap.
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Now we are coming into the end of the Easter season. Thursday this week marks the fortieth day since Easter, which is the traditional time to celebrate Jesus Christ’s “Ascension” into heaven.
Besides myself, I wonder how many of you-all grew up reciting the Apostles’ Creed in church each week.
I believe in God, the Father, the Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate;
he was crucified, died, and was buried.
He went to the dead.
On the third day, he rose again,
entered into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again
to judge the living and the dead.
The language about “he ascended into heaven” or “he entered into heaven” is ingrained in my imagination. I love our UCC Statement of Faith, but this scene is not in it. I feel that it’s important.
If at Christmas-time we say that Christ “came down from heaven,” we ought to give similar value to this moment, when Emmanuel (God-with-us) was received back into the presence of the Father. So, this Sunday, we will dwell for awhile on Christ’s Ascension.
If you think about it, though, this day of Ascension was followed by nine or ten days when Jesus was “up there” but, at least according to Luke, the Holy Spirit had not yet been given. Jesus’ disciples must have been feeling very strange anticipation.
All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer ....