New Testament: Acts (1:6-14)
When [the apostles] had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
The Response: Psalm (68:1-10, 33-36)
1 Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *
let those who hate him flee before him.
2 Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *
as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
3 But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; *
let them also be merry and joyful.
4 Sing to God, sing praises to his Name;
exalt him who rides upon the heavens; *
Yahweh is his Name, rejoice before him!
5 Father of orphans, defender of widows, *
God in his holy habitation!
6 God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom; *
but the rebels shall live in dry places.
7 O God, when you went forth before your people, *
when you marched through the wilderness,
8 The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain,
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, *
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9 You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance; *
you refreshed the land when it was weary.
10 Your people found their home in it; *
in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.
33 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; *
sing praises to the Lord.
34 He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; *
he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice.
35 Ascribe power to God; *
his majesty is over Israel;
his strength is in the skies.
36 How wonderful is God in his holy places! *
the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people!
Blessed be God!
The Epistle: 1 Peter (4:12-14; 5:6-11)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
The Gospel: John (17:15-11)
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
From a liturgical point of view, this Seventh Sunday of Easter is an odd day. It comes three days after the church has marked Jesus’ Ascension: his physical departure from his disciples, forty days after his resurrection; and it comes a week before our celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. By following the chronology of the Acts of the Apostles, we find ourselves stuck in a sort of nine-day “time-in-between.” We’re in a kind of holding pattern. But then so were the believers about whom we heard in today’s first reading.
Acts is the only book in the New Testament that presents this fifty-day sequence of events; none of the gospels does. And Acts reflects the uncertainty that its characters would have experienced in such a time in-between.
During Jesus’ ministry with them, his followers had come to anticipate that, in him, God would restore Israel: that is, bring about its renewal, so that it could at last fulfill the role that it had been given by God. Certainly now, after Jesus had died, after God had raised him from the dead, after he had taught them in a new way over a period of forty days, now was the time for the completion, the fulfillment of all that had been promised. “Lord,” they asked him, “is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” But instead of answering them directly, Jesus spoke of some still-future coming of the Holy Spirit and about their roles, serving as his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After they watched him as he was taken away from them by a cloud, they just stood there, waiting: maybe waiting for the end to come. Wasn’t that what they were supposed to do? What else could they do? After all, the restoration of which he had spoken was obviously going to be God’s work, not theirs.
But then, Luke, the author of Acts, suddenly introduces two new characters: “two men in white robes.” Or maybe they weren’t new to the story at all. In Luke’s first volume, his version of the gospel, two men, Moses and Elijah, had appeared alongside Jesus at the time of his transfiguration. And later, after his resurrection, “two men in dazzling clothes” appeared and spoke to the women who had come to the tomb. It could be that the same two witnesses had now returned for a third and final time.
And the two challenged the disciples, who were standing there, staring up at the sky, with their mouths wide open. They asked them in effect: “Why are you just standing here, looking up to the sky, waiting for God miraculously to do everything? You have a lot of work to do. Ultimately, God will complete the restoration. But for now, God is giving you the gift of the Spirit so that you can go out and do the work of the kingdom, so that you can carry on the work that Jesus has begun, so that you can proclaim the good news and help to transform the world.” Their time-in-between was not just a time for hoping and praying, as important as they are. It was a time for action, for doing the work of the kingdom.
Jesus’ followers in our first reading found themselves in a time in-between. But so do we. Liturgically, we find ourselves today in the time in-between the Ascension and Pentecost. But, more importantly, we find that our entire lives are lived in a time in-between: between the promise of Jesus and God’s gift of the Spirit on the one hand, and the fulfillment of that promise in the coming of the kingdom in all its fullness, on the other.
Far too many Christians fail to understand their role in that time in-between – or maybe they just avoid it. They seem intent on imitating those disciples, just after Jesus’ ascension. They stand there, looking up to heaven, waiting for God to come down and step in and change the world.
But those two witnesses, representing our entire religious heritage, continue to challenge us today. They ask us, “Why are you just standing there, looking up to heaven, waiting for and expecting God to do it all? Sure, God in Jesus will someday bring the transformation of the world to its completion. But for now, that work of changing the world is your job, your responsibility. As St. Augustine put it, ‘God without us will not, and we without God cannot.’
“So,” they continue, “don’t just stand around, looking up at the sky. Get to work! Share the Good News with those who have not really heard it. Show the world what God wants the world to be. And, in the power of the Spirit, go out today and every day, and build the kingdom of God.”