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Ascension of the Lord, Cycle C (2016)


This is the heavenly power and cosmic presence of Christ. This festival provides occasion for focusing on God in his glory and holiness, his presence with us, and his conquest of evil (Atonement, Providence, and Justification by Grace) along with an Eschatological/cosmic perspective on faith.

Psalm 47
This is a Korah Psalm celebrating God’s enthronement as king of all nations. Korahites were a group of temple singers (2 Chronicles 20:19). A summons is issued to all the world to praise God with joy and hand-claps (vv. 1-2). Yahweh Elohim is said to have subdued the nations and chosen our heritage [nachalah, inheritance] (vv. 3-4). Selah after verse 4 is a liturgical direction referring to an instrumental interlude which is to transpire at that point. The universal theme in these verses is consistent with the theme of God’s power manifested in the Ascension. The psalm is likely composed to accompany religious ceremonies connected with the Ark of the Covenant, as calls for praise to God who is said to be king of all the earth are issued (vv. 5-9). He is proclaimed king over the nations (v. 8). The kings (shields [magen]) of the earth are said to belong to God (v. 9).

Application: This Psalm provides a testimony to God’s power over all dimensions of life, even over national government and its power (Providence and Social Ethics). Spontaneous joy can only result from these insights (Sanctification).


Psalm 93
This Psalm is a hymn extolling God as king, composed perhaps for a festival. He is said to be from all eternity [alam] and to rule over the chaos (vv. 1-4). The powers of the chaos testify to him, disposing the divine goodness. God is praised for his testimonies [eda, usually a reference to the law he decrees] and for the holiness [qodesh, set apartness] of the temple (v. 5).

Application: This Alternative Psalm affords opportunity to reflect on the goodness of God and his revelation (exploring what is revealed) and also how he makes us and the Church Holy. Sermons on Providence, Revelation, Sanctification, and Church are appropriate.

Acts 1:1-11
We again remind ourselves that this book is the second half of the two-part early history of the Church attributed to Paul’s Gentile associate, Luke (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). It is particularly concerned to affirm the universal mission of the Church (1:8). This lesson is the introduction to the book and the account of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. Addressing Theophilus, the author begins by noting an earlier book (Luke) in which all Jesus did and taught from the beginning until his Ascension is recorded (vv. 1-2).

Forty days of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances are noted. He is said to have spoken of the kingdom of God [Basileia tou Theou] 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). The apostles ask if their Lord will restore the Davidic

kingdom to Israel (v. 6). Jesus replies that it is not for them to know the times or periods set by the Father (v. 7). They are told that they will receive power [dunamis] when the Holy Spirit [Hagios Pneuma] comes upon them and will be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem in all Judea to the ends of the earth (v. 8). This could refer to the conversion of the Gentiles, to Paul’s arrival in Rome, or to some other earth-shattering event. Then Jesus begins to ascend. A cloud (symbolizing the presence and activity of God [Exodus 24:15-18]) is said to have lifted him up. Next, two men in white robes appear. The men [andres] (angels) inform them that Jesus will come again the same way that they had seen him ascend into heaven (vv. 9-11).

Application: This lesson can occasion sermons proclaiming the confidence and fresh perspective on life that the ascension of Jesus and an Eschatological/cosmic perspective on faith can afford. The role of Eschatology in nurturing the experience of Justification by Grace might be developed.

Ephesians 1:15-23
The book from which this lesson is drawn is likely a circular letter written by Paul from prison late in his career or by one of his followers who had a hand in assembling a collection of his epistles. The latter prospect is made likely by the fact that the letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different from the indisputably Pauline writings. It may have been written to and for a later generation of Christians, as the writer claims to have heard of the recipients’ faith and love toward all faithful (1:15).

The lesson begins with this praise of the Ephesians for their faith and love toward the saints [hagios]. He prays that they may receive wisdom [sophia] regarding the greatness of God’s power [dunamis] for the faithful. The faithful have been called [klesis, calling] to hope [elpis], the author claims (vv. 17-19). God puts his power to work in Christ in raising him and seating him at the Lord’s right hand (in the Ascension) (v. 20). The Ascension entails that all things are under Christ, including the Church of which he is head [kephale]. The Church [ekklesia] is then his Body [soma] and he dwells in it (vv.22-23; cf. Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-7). These are claims not made in the unquestionably authentic Pauline letters (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Application: Several possibilities emerge from the lesson. Opportunity is afforded to testify to the ultimate triumph of God’s loving grace over anything that might try to get in the way (Justification by Grace). Another is to focus on Christ’s lordship over the Church.

Luke 24:44-53
We are again reminded that this gospel is the first installment 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). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the Church (Acts 1:8). Addressed to Theophilus (1:1), it is not clear if this means that the work was written for a recent convert or for 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. This lesson 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 is reference to the latter also made.

Jesus says the words he uttered to the disciples (that the Messiah should suffer [v. 26])

demonstrate that the Law of Moses, the prophets, and psalms have been fulfilled (v. 44). Jesus opens the minds of the disciples to understand that his suffering and Resurrection fulfill these Old Testament texts (vv. 45-46). This word is to be proclaimed with the word of repentance [metanoia] and forgiveness of sins (v. 47). As witnesses [martus, or martyrs], the disciples are to receive what the Father promises (power from on high) and remain in Jerusalem until this is received (vv. 47-48). What the Father promises turns out to be the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:4, 17-18). Jesus leads the disciples to the east of Jerusalem to Bethany, blesses 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: An obvious use of this account is to proclaim how the Ascension affirms how Christ continually brings us into the presence of God (Christology and Justification by Grace).

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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