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Ascension of Our Lord, Cycle A

This theme of heavenly power and cosmic presence of Christ leads to consideration of Providence, Christology (the Cosmic Christ, including Creation), the good news of Justification by Grace, as well as Sanctification and the Mission Imperative.

Psalm 47
This is a Korah Psalm, a family of psalms written for or by a professional musician of that name (see 1 Chronicles 15:16-22; Nehemiah 12:41-46). These Psalms (42-49) may be attributed to one of Israel’s chief group of singers (2 Chronicles 20:19). This one is an enthronement psalm, a group of psalms used on festival occasions when God was declared king. Our lesson celebrates God’s enthronement as king [melek] of all nations. It begins with a summons to all the world to praise God with shouts, loud songs, and the clapping of hands (v. 1). Yahweh Elohim is said to be awesome and a great king over all the earth, subduing peoples under the Hebrew nation (vv. 2-4). As we have previously noted, the word Selah, appearing in a Psalm as occurs after verse 4 in this one, is a liturgical direction which may indicate that there should be an instrumental interlude at that point in the singing of the psalm. This universal theme is consistent with the theme of God’s power manifested in the ascension. The Psalm is likely composed to accompany religious ceremonies associated with the Ark of the Covenant (vv. 5-9).

Application: A sermon on this song will stress God’s glory and power over the entire cosmos. When things look bad for the faithful, we can be assured that God is in control of all things, even of our enemies (Creation and Providence). This emphasis on God’s power might be related to the glory and power which belong to the ascended Christ (Christology). The loving-kindness of Jesus now reigns! The sermon might then move to reiterate the joy and praise of God reflected in verses 5-9 that these insights occasion (Sanctification).


Psalm 93
This is another of the enthronement psalms, like the one described above, extolling God as king and probably composed for a festival. It is closely related to Psalm 47 above. Yahweh’s majesty and establishment of the world are proclaimed. He has ruled from eternity (vv. 1-2). He is said to rule over the waters [mayim, interpreted as chaos] (vv. 3-4). Perhaps this image could suggest that the occasion for this psalm was the annual Fall Festival of Booths or Tabernacles, when the Lord’s victory over chaos is evident in the harvest. It is also possible that the image of water is employed here in view of the fact that Mesopotamian and Canaanite conceptions of divine kingship were understood as established by victory over the sea. In any case, the powers of chaos are said to testify to him, exposing the divine goodness. God is praised for his law and for the holiness of the temple (v. 5).

Application: This Psalm presents another opportunity for a sermon on God’s providential rule. The stress on God’s rule over chaos provides entrée for sermons on giving hope in the midst of fear or hard times. The stability of moral principles and the church in the midst of this chaos is another angle for sermons.

Acts 1:1-11
On this festival we continue to read from the very beginning of the second half of a two-part history of the church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). We note again that there is some dispute about the date of composition, whether it was composed before Paul’s martyrdom (in 65-67 AD) or much later, after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. In any case, the author’s stress on the universal mission of the church (1:8) and an effort to validate Paul’s ministry reflects in this lesson. This lesson is the introduction to the book and an account of Jesus’ ascension in heaven.

Like Luke, the book begins addressing Theophilus. It is not clear if this means that these works were written for a recent convert or a Roman official from whom the church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful. The author notes his earlier book (Luke) in which all Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the ascension is recorded (vv. 1-2). Forty days of Jesus’ resurrection appearances are noted. Many convincing proofs [sure tokens, tekmerion] are said to be offered (see Luke 24:13-53). Reportedly he spoke of the kingdom of God, ordering the apostles to remain in Jerusalem to wait for the Father’s promise (vv. 3-4). As John the Baptist baptized with water, the apostles will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (v. 5; cf. Luke 3:16; Mark 1:8). The apostles ask if their Lord will restore the kingdom to Israel (v. 6; cf. Luke 1:32). Jesus replies that it is not for them to know the time or periods set by the Father (v. 7). It seems that the mission of the church replaces concern about the kingdom of God for Luke (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Luke, p. 326). The apostles are told that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them and will be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and to the ends of the earth (v. 8). This theme of the Spirit empowering the faithful as well as their universal missions is central to the book (2:12ff; Robert Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, p. 57). Then Jesus begins to ascend. Two men [andres] in white robes then appear. These men (presumably angels, though the Greek term employed does not authorize that interpretation) inform them that Jesus will come again in the same way that they had seen him ascend into heaven (vv. 9-11).

Application: The text provides an opportunity to reflect on how Jesus’ ascension makes love in Christ cosmic, so that to think of Jesus’ love for us becomes all the more awesome, majestic, and mysterious; not just a trivial thing to be ignored (Justification by Grace through Faith). Likewise the gift of the Holy Spirit which follows from the ascension is all the more an awesome mystery, events in life we can no longer easily trivialize.

Ephesians 1:15-23
This epistle is a circular letter, either written by Paul from prison late in his career or by a follower of his who had a hand in assembling the collection of Paul’s epistles. These conclusions follow from the fact that the letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different from the rest of the Pauline corpus. It is clear that the epistle is addressing a younger later generation of Christians (1:15). This lesson involves the author’s praise of the Ephesians and a thanksgiving for the blessings of God’s cosmic plans. The Ephesian faithful are first praised for their faith and love toward the saints (v. 15). Paul (the author) prays that they may receive wisdom regarding the greatness of God’s power for the faithful (vv. 17-19). God is said to put his power to work in Christ in raising him and seating him at the Lord’s right hand [dexios] (in the ascension) (v. 20). This is probably a reference to Psalm 110:1, where Yahweh directs his priest-king to sit at his right hand. To be at one’s right hand was to stand in the place of power and honor of a ruler (see 1 Kings 2:19). The ascension then entails that all things are under Christ, including the church of which he is the head [kephale]. (This designation is not used in the authentic Pauline letters.) The church is then his body [soma], the fullness [pleroma] of him who fills all in all (vv. 22-23; cf. Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-27).

Application: The concept that with the ascension Christ has all God’s power and honor, and all things are under him, entails a vision of the cosmic Christ, which implies that his creative loving nature is embodied in the creation. This insight into Providence and Justification by Grace brings joy, calm, and energy to the faithful (Sanctification).

Luke 24:44-53
We turn to the first installment of a two-part history of the church traditionally attributed to Luke (see the First Lesson for details on the book’s origins and the author’s agenda). This text is the conclusion of Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples during his final resurrection appearance (vv. 44-49), followed by the account of his ascension (vv. 50-53). Only in Acts (in the First Lesson) is express reference to the latter also made. Jesus claims that the words he uttered to the disciples (that the Messiah should suffer [v. 26]) demonstrate that the Law of Moses, the prophets, and Psalms has been fulfilled (v. 44). He opens the minds of the disciples to understand that his suffering and resurrection fulfill these Old Testament texts (vv. 45-46; cf. Hosea 6:2). This theme is more characteristic of Matthew, and it is interesting that the only parallel account to Luke’s story is found in Matthew (28:16ff), which does not include this proof from Old Testament prophecy.

The risen Lord proceeds to instruct that this word is to be proclaimed with the word of repentance and forgiveness of sins (v. 47). We have previously noted how characteristic it is of Luke to connect repentance and salvation, while not identifying them (Acts 2:38; Hans Conzelman, The Theology of St. Luke, p. 228). As witnesses, Jesus notes, the disciples are to receive what the Father promises (power [dunamis] from on high [ex hupsos]) and remain in Jerusalem until this is received (vv. 47-49), no doubt another Lukan reference to the faithful’s need for empowerment of the Holy Spirit in doing their mission. Jesus is reported as leading the disciples to the east of Jerusalem to Bethany to bless them, and then ascends to heaven (vv. 50-51). The disciples respond with worship, return to Jerusalem with joy, and are continually in the temple blessing God (vv. 52-53).

Application: A sermon on this text affords occasion to examine the ascension and its significance for daily life. Note how Jesus’ ascension was related to the giving of the Holy Spirit and to power and energy for mission (Pneumatology, Sanctification, and Mission). Though distant from us, Christ remains actively engaged in our lives, giving new insight about the faith and leading us into mission. With this awareness, Christ is not distant but present in a new, marvelous way, and like the disciples we can only respond in joy (Sanctification).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen