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Easter 7, Cycle A

Living by God’s awesome vision. In line with the festival of the Ascension just celebrated, the texts invite reflection on God’s magnificence (God and Trinity) and awesome rule (Providence) as well as the comfort this affords (Justification by Grace) and the humility nurtured (Sanctification).

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
The song is a hymn of praise, traditionally ascribed to David. Scholars have noted that like most Psalms of David it is unlikely he wrote this one, for references to David in the Psalms may be a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 521). In that sense this song is about the praise in which all the faithful engage. It probably had its origins in a liturgy for a festival in the temple. Many scholars deem it to be a mere collection of unrelated fragments.

Prayer is offered for God to manifest himself in battle, driving away enemies (vv. 1-2). The words are a form of the ancient Son of the Ark [of the covenant where Yahweh sits] in Numbers 10:35. The righteous are called on to be joyful, singing praises to God’s name. He is said to ride on the clouds, much like the Canaanite storm god did (vv. 3-4). God is called the Father of orphans and protector of widows, giving the desolate homes and prosperity (vv. 5-6). It is noted that God cared for his people in the past, marching through the wilderness, becoming present at Sinai (vv. 7-8). He showered rain in abundance on them, finding a dwelling for his flock (vv. 9-10). After announcing a great victory for God (vv. 11-14), Mount Zion (the highest and oldest part of Jerusalem, where Yahweh Elohim is said to reside, thus surpassing mountains of Basham, a region east of the Sea of Galilee) is extolled (vv. 15-16). Reference is then made to God ascending to his throne in the temple (vv. 17-18), a procession enters the temple (vv. 24-27) with a prayer for victory against Egypt (vv. 28-31), and hymns to the God of heaven in his power and awesomeness are uttered (vv. 32-35).

Application: The Psalm invites sermons praising God for his majesty and his special care for the hopeless (Social Ethics). These are important themes for counteracting American propensities to trivialize God or forget the social agenda of faith. The theme of God ascending to his throne suggests Jesus’ ascension celebrated in the First Lesson.

Acts 1:6-14
The Easter season ends with a continuation of readings from the 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 so an effort to validate Paul’s ministry reflects in this lesson. In this text we consider Luke’s other version of the ascension (see Luke 24:50-51) and the immediate aftermath of it.

In a final resurrection appearance by Jesus with the apostles in Jerusalem (v. 4), presumably forty days after rising from the dead (v. 3), they 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). (The theme of being a witness when a disciple is central to Luke [24:48] and Acts [1:22; 2:32].) As we previously noted, 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. A cloud [nephele] is said to take Jesus out of sight. This could signify the presence and activity of God (Exodus 24:15-18; Luke 9:34, 21:27). Two men [andres] in white robes then appear. These men (presumably angels, though the Greek term employed does not authorize that interpretation) inform the disciples that Jesus will come again in the same way that they had seen him ascend into heaven (vv. 9-11).

After the ascension the disciples return to Jerusalem as instructed. This was a Sabbath day’s journey (about one-half mile) from the site of the ascension, the Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem (v. 12). The eleven remaining disciples (all are named) return to their upstairs room (v. 13). Together with certain women (including Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers) they devote themselves to prayer (v. 14).

Application: The text affords a good opportunity to relate the ascension to the gift of the Spirit to be celebrated next week (Pneumatology). We do not lose Jesus. He comes to us now as the Holy Spirit. The other good news is that Jesus’ dwelling in the presence of God entails that he brings our human nature into the presence of God. As we are never without God’s presence as the Holy Spirit lives among us, so we (our humanity) are never outside the presence of God in all his majesty (Trinity and the comforting word of God’s care for us).

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
For a number of weeks in the past month we have observed that this book was probably written between 70 AD and 90 AD. It is a pastoral exhortation (circular letter) written by an elder in Rome claiming to be Peter to a Gentile church at the lower levels of the socioeconomic spectrum in Turkey. The latter date and high-quality Greek make it unlikely to have been a work of the apostle. This text is a recapitulation of previous exhortations and part of the concluding exhortations of the epistle. The beloved readers of the letter are told that they are not to be surprised by the persecution they are experiencing (1:6-7). This (fiery ordeals) is taking place, it is said, to test/try [peirasmon] them (4:12). In fact they should rejoice and shout as they rejoice in Christ’s sufferings (4:13; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).

Readers are urged to humble themselves (as per Proverbs 55:22), so God may exalt them. They may cast all their anxiety on him, for he cares about them (5:6-7). Discipline and keeping alert are urged, for the devil [diabolis] is seeking them as prey. Readers are urged to resist him in faith; they are told that other Christians are undergoing suffering like they are (5:8-9). After suffering for a while, the God of grace who has called them to his eternal glory will restore [katartizo, also translated as "perfect"], support, strengthen, and establish them. To him is the power/might [kratos] forever (5:10-11).

Application: Preachers are afforded occasions to reflect with parishioners on suffering as a consequence of sin and not God’s ultimate will, followed by providing the good news of God’s grace who in eternity (Eschatology) will now strengthen them (Justification by Grace). (Methodists might even move to speak here of being perfected [Sanctification].) Reference might also be made to contending with the devil (Classic View of the Atonement). But it is also possible to see in the lesson a view of God’s providence where he put us through trials by suffering in order to humble us, but again while proclaiming that his caring aim is to strengthen, support, and even perfect us.

John 17:1-11
We have previously noted the well-known fact that this is the last of the gospels to be written, probably not until the last decade of the first century, and so not likely by the apostle John but by a follower of his. The gospel’s aim was to encourage its readers to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31). In line with this overall agenda, the lesson covers the last quarter of Jesus’ farewell address — the first half of his high priestly prayer. Jesus begins the prayer with a reference to the hour that has come (presumably referring to his upcoming Passion), calling the Father to glorify the Son as he will glorify the Father, since the Son has been given authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given the Son (vv. 1-2). Eternal life is said to know the Father, the only true God and knowing Christ (v. 3). Jesus claims to have glorified the Father on earth by finishing the word he has been given to do (v. 4). He petitions the Father, then, to glorify him with the glory he had in the Father’s presence before the world existed (v. 5; cf. 17:24). There seems to be a reference to the ascension, which has been just celebrated. He reminds the Father that he has made the Father’s name known to all those whom he has been given by the Father, for the followers of Jesus are the Father’s (vv. 6, 10). Jesus seems to have made known the Father’s name (Yahweh — “I am Who I am”) in his own testimony as “I am” [ego emi, see 8:12; 12:46; 14:6; 15:1, 5]. His followers have been taught that all Jesus has comes from the Father, he came from the Father, and this they have believed (vv. 7-8). Jesus claims that his petitions are on behalf of his followers, not on behalf of the world (v. 9). He urges that the Father protect his followers in the Father’s name, since all that he has is the Father’s and vice versa. Jesus would have his followers be one, as he and the Father are one (vv. 10-11). This unity among the faithful is a function of the unity of Father and Son evident by Jesus sharing God’s name.

Application: The text invites sermons on Christian unity (Church) or the unity of all creatures (Sanctification and Social Ethics), relating this unity to how Father and Son are one (Trinity).

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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