The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (email@example.com) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
The Seventh Sunday of Easter - Year A
ACTS 1:6-14 With Jesus gone from their midst and the
promised kingdom of the Messiah not yet a reality, what was to happen
next? Luke answered this question not only for that time, but for all
time. The power of God that was at work in Jesus had now passed to the
assembled community of men and women who followed him from Galilee to
Jerusalem, had witnessed to his resurrection, and now formed a visible
community of faith awaiting his return. The church is still that visible
community of today.
PSALM 68:1-10, 32-35 Unique in the Psalter, this psalm has been
described as a collection of short songs and fragments possibly used in a
sacred procession at some festival. It celebrated the sovereignty and
providence of God.
1 PETER 4:12-14; 5:6-11 A threatened persecution seemed close at
hand. The writer encouraged the faithful to remain steadfast after the
example of Jesus in his suffering. The hope of the afflicted rested on
the promise of the constant presence of Christ who had called them to
share his glory. The beauty and resolute faith of the passage still
strengthen modern disciples of Jesus who may well grow weary in a violent
and unbelieving world.
JOHN 17:1-11 It is most unlikely that these are actual
words of a prayer by Jesus himself. More probably they are a meditation
by the author of the Gospel on the humanity and divinity of Christ as seen
in his earthly ministry, and on the divine character of the ministry
committed to the church. At the heart of this passage is the essential
message of John's Gospel: Jesus has been fully revealed as the
Messiah/Christ, the Son of God with all divine authority and power. As
such he gives the eternal life of God to those who believe in his true
nature now glorified by the resurrection.
A MORE COMPLETE AANALYSIS:
ACTS 1:6-14 The ascension of Christ is told three times in the NT –
here, in Luke 24:51 and in the 2nd century addition to Mark’s Gospel
(16:19). The concept of ascension to the heavens, however, was common in
the Hellenistic world. It was generally interpreted as a sign of divinity
and immortality for kings, heroes, prophets or holy men to be so
transported to the realm of the gods. Platonism extended this symbol of
immortality to all humanity. While similarly demonstrating the eternal
divinity of Jesus, this story also signaled the beginning of the messianic
kingdom. This, of course, involved a reinterpretation of the Jewish
scriptures, as is obvious from vss. 6-8. There are only two instances of
ascension in the OT - Enoch (Gen.5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11). Jewish
noncanonical writings also record the ascensions of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah
and Ezra following the Hellenistic model.
The ascension of Christ was different in that it appears to be a
reinterpretation of Psalm 110 which celebrates the supposed ascension of a
Judean monarch to the right hand of God. Confirmation of this new
reinterpretation by the apostolic church can be found in the frequent
quotations and allusions to it throughout the NT: Matt. 22:42-46; Mark
12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44; twice in Acts 5:31 and 7:55; four times in the
Pauline epistles (Rom. 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1); once each
in 1 Peter 3:22 and Revelation 3:21, but especially Hebrews where it is
referred to eleven times (1:13; 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 15, 17, 21; 8:1;
10:12-13; 12:2.) The figure of the Lamb standing by the throne of God in
many references in Revelation also confirms the ascension as the church
then understood it.
As it stands in this reading, the interpretative midrash tells a simple
story be in which a number of historical facts may well be imbedded. With
Jesus gone from their midst and the promised kingdom of the Messiah not
yet a reality, what was to happen next? The assembled disciples posed the
question in so many words. Jesus answered it, not only for that time, but
for all time. The spiritual power of God that was at work in Jesus had
now passed to the assembled community of men and women who followed him
from Galilee to Jerusalem, had witnessed to his resurrection, and now
formed a visible community of faith awaiting his return. The church
remains that visible community of believers to this day.
Significantly, the story has a missionary thrust which no one can ignore.
When empowered as promised by Christ, they were to become his witnesses to
the world (vs. 8). In effect, this story gives “Theophilus” (1:1) the
theme and form for the rest of the book. It transforms the work into a
missionary tract as distinct from recorded history. This isn’t the story
of how the gospel reached the heart of the Roman empire nor did it provide
a factual account of what the apostles said and did. This is what the
early Christian community thought about itself, who they were and what
motivated them to do what the Jews of Thessalonica said of them: “These
people have been turning the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6)
The little coterie spending their time at prayer (vss. 13-14) may well
have included many more than are named. (Cf. vs. 15 - “120 persons”) Of
particular importance is the presence of Jesus’ mother and brothers.
Whereas Luke had earlier reported this family to have been alienated from
Jesus (Luke 8:19-21), here they have no only been reconciled but have
become believers in his resurrection and part of the missionary community.
Some scholars have assumed that Mary’s presence contributed to the
tradition about Jesus’ early years. There is no doubt, however, that
James, the brother of Jesus, subsequently became the leader of the
Jerusalem church. (12:17; 15:12)
PSALM 68:1-10, 32-35 Unique in the Psalter, this psalm has been
described as a collection of short songs and fragments probably used in a
sacred procession at some festival. It celebrated the sovereignty and
providence of God exhibited in Israel’s covenantal history. This reading
consists of the opening and closing songs.
In an introductory segment (vss.1-3), the psalmist raises an exultant call
for adoration of Yahweh by a righteous assembly processing toward the
temple. The remainder of this segment (vss. 4-10) celebrates the
Israelite’s march from Sinai to Canaan with Yahweh leading them and
providing for their needs. Accordingly, it is not beyond imagination that
the procession could have been a re-enactment of the Exodus. The final
segment draws the lessons of Israel’s history to the kingdoms of the
world. Divine sovereignty rests on spiritual power, a power conveyed to
Israel through their worship.
As noted above, the ascension symbolizes Christ’s sovereignty with God
which he commissioned the apostolic church to extend to the whole world.
This psalm has the same message and mission, but attributed to Israel
during the postexilic period. It is not difficult to see why, with its
messianic convictions concerning Jesus, the apostolic church could read
such a psalm such with profound insight into its missionary task.
1 PETER 4:12-14; 5:6-11 A threatened persecution seemed close at hand.
The writer encouraged the faithful to remain disciplined and steadfast
after the example of Jesus in his suffering. The hope of the afflicted
rested on the promise of the constant presence of Christ who had called
them to share his glory.
Some ancient texts add the words “and of power” after “the spirit of
glory” and before the clause “which is the Spirit of God” in vs. 14. The
passage thus forms a concise summary of the whole Passion story - the
crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension and the gift of power at
Pentecost. As well, the expectation of Christ’s return in glory provides
the faithful with the joyful hope they need to withstand their
The author vividly reiterates that torment before which the faithful are
to humble themselves while casting their anxiety on God’s love. Is the
reference to the adversary as a roaring lion an actual remembrance of the
death some of the martyrs had already suffered perhaps in the Roman
coliseum (5:8)? Note, however, that it is not to worldly power of the
imperial authorities, but to “the mighty hand of God” that they are to
humble themselves. The writer sees the persecution as God’s way of
bringing them to a much greater glory (vs. 6). He encourages them to
resist the temptation offered to them, presumably their lives in return
for an act of obeisance before the image of the emperor. He goes on to
inform them that the same kind of suffering is shared by many others
elsewhere. After enduring a short period of distress, there awaits the
eternal glory of Christ to which they have been called. A brief doxology
ends what may well have been a very moving sermon.
Though referring to events confronting those who first received the
letter, the beauty and resolute faith of the passage still strengthen
modern disciples of Jesus who may well grow weary in a violent and
JOHN 17:1-11 It is most unlikely that these are actual words of a prayer
by Jesus himself. Scholars have tended to give it the title of “Jesus’
high priestly prayer,” because it includes three main topics: his own
pending death and departure to be with God, his disciples’ continuing
ministry in the world, and the mission of the universal church. More
probably this is a meditation by the author of the Gospel on the humanity
and divinity of Christ as seen in his earthly ministry, and on the divine
character of the ministry committed to the church. At the heart of this
passage is the essential message of John's Gospel: Jesus has been fully
revealed as the Messiah/Christ, the Son of God with all divine authority
and power. As such he gives the eternal life of God to those who believe
in his true nature now glorified by the resurrection.
The words which stand out in the whole of this passage are “glorify” and
its noun, “glory.” They occur no less than six times, five of these in the
verb form so characteristic of John’s Gospel and particularly in the final
discourse (chs. 13-17). The “glorifying” of Christ, of course, occurred
in his death, resurrection and ascension. As William Barclay noted, “To
Jesus the Cross was the glory of life and the way to the glory of
eternity.” (*Daily Bible Readings: The Gospel of John*, Edinburgh: Church
of Scotland, 1957) It was in his obedience to death, “even death on the
cross,” that Jesus glorified God, as the primitive church sang in the hymn
Paul quoted in Phil 2:8. More than that, writing perhaps 60 or more years
after the resurrection, John knew that it was not Jesus’ death, but his
resurrection, which so impelled the apostolic church to witness for Christ
to the point of martyrdom. Crucifixion was common, resurrection unique;
and it was on this that the authority of the church’s preaching rested.
Another aspect of Jesus’ glorification can be found in vs. 5 of this
reading. It was his way back to the glory he had with God before the
creation of the world. In his *Introduction to the Theology of the New
Testament* (London: SCM Press, 1958) Alan Richardson stated that the idea
of a pre-existent Messiah was not new. In Judaism, “such a conception was
only a poetic way of emphasizing the religious significance of the thing;
and the Torah, the Temple and the Messiah were already thought of in this
manner.” (157) The Jewish concept of Wisdom which had much in common with
the Stoic conception of *logos* had acquired a similar characteristic. So
in 1:1-14 John could write of the *logos* becoming flesh in Jesus and
dwelling among us so that “we beheld his glory.” Now, at the end of his
earthly life, Jesus was to be restored “with the glory (he) had in (God’s)
presence before the world existed.” This is John’s way of defining the
ascension of which we read in Acts 1:6-11.
Having consecrated himself to his pending death, resurrection and
ascension, Jesus’ prayer moved to the consecration of the disciples (vss.
6-19) of which this reading includes only the first part. Here John
overstated the real situation. According to this prayer, when Jesus left
the disciples to carry on his work, he had fully instructed them and they
had believed all he taught them. Contrast this with the betrayal of Judas
Iscariot, the denial of Peter and the disciples’ initial disbelief in the
Again John picks up on the “glorification” of Christ in the continuing
ministry of the disciples in the world (vs. 10). This prayer emphasizes
two ways in which this was to happen through their work: their full
identification with Jesus and with God; and the unity of the apostolic
teaching. We know from the early history of the church that this plea was
in vain. The church struggled with two significant problems during its
first few decades, and its still does so after two millennia: The
faithfulness of its converts and the traumatic disunity in the way and to
whom the gospel is proclaimed. We know too that these issues were as
prominent in John’s community as elsewhere. In fact, John’s Gospel had
been written because of these very issues. By putting them into this
‘high priestly prayer,’ John recalled his community to the primary purpose
of the church: to proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ so that
all the world may believe and be saved.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.