Welcome to worship this day for the 7th Sunday of Easter, landing on May 21, 2023!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it you will find the order of worship, the word of the liturgy with your responses in bold, the hymn numbers out of the ELW and the liturgical music page numbers out of the Hymnal Supplement (1991), and the full sermon. The words that you need to know will also be on your screen.
To enhance your online worship experience, you may have a lit candle in your space for most of the service and they can be extinguished with the altar candles after the sending hymn. And if you’d like to participate in communion, you are welcome to do so by having something small to eat and drink, ready to consume at the appropriate time in the service, where further instruction will be given.
May God’s unifying love bring you joy and hope, this day and always!
Spirit of glory and joy, may we be blessed with a word of life this day, that we be restored, feel your support, and be strengthened by your unifying love that welcomes us all, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I used to visit different churches and youth groups, and I remember this one church that was really popular among those in my friend group at the time. This church had a very active campus ministry and they were always trying new and different and innovative ways of being welcoming and open to new people. But even after all their efforts, I never felt like I was really part of this church no matter how many times I’d show my face, I just always felt like I was on the outside. Granted, I wasn’t your typical youth group hopper back then, as while a lot of these kids were actively searching for the meaning of life, I was mostly there hoping to meet girls.
Anyway, this one day that we were visiting, which was probably my 10th or 20th time there, one of the regulars came up to me and introduced himself. After telling him that we’ve met like half a dozen times already, he said something to me that I’ll never forget. He said, “oh, ok, well the Jesus in me greets the Jesus in you.”
The Jesus in him greets the Jesus in me? What, are these two different Jesuses high fiving behind our backs or something?
When I heard it, I was thinking what in the culty cult crazy cult did I find myself in? I didn’t even care if there were girls there I honestly just wanted to get the heck out and go home. To me, at the time, it sounded like they were equating themselves with Jesus, and in the same breath, equating me to him too. And I wasn’t very comfortable with that.
The Jesus in me greets the Jesus in you. What is that even supposed to mean? How is that supposed to make someone like me, who felt displaced pretty much his whole life, feel like he belongs? How is that supposed to make someone like me, an outsider by ethnicity, a minority by physiology, and a supposed newcomer into their church feel welcome? How is that supposed to help someone who is possibly looking for the meaning of life to feel loved?
And hit me, mind you it was after a few years of not forgetting this incident and a couple theology degrees later, but I kind of understand now what they mean. I sure as heck wouldn’t use the words they used or say it in the way they said it, but I get what they were trying to do.
They were trying to be welcoming by pointing out the similarities that we share, by highlighting our common ground, by recognising how we are all God’s people joined through the grace of Christ by the power of the Spirit. And maybe now that just seems obvious, but it was such a weird way of doing it that I just didn’t get it at the time.
See in those days, while I still considered myself Lutheran, I was pretty by the book. Not saying that Lutherans don’t care about the book, but I do think Lutheran theology allows for the grace to have different expressions and slightly different understandings. But for me, my eyes were fixed on what I thought was right and what is wrong. My mind was set on what I believed was the proper way of doing things. My life was based on this narrow-minded faith that told me exactly how the world… and God… works.
Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you’ve felt like this at some point in your life. Maybe you feel like this now. But I think it’s this kind of attitude that Jesus was facing during his physical ministry here on Earth, even up to the point of the Ascension.
I know, today is the 7th Sunday of Easter, not the Ascension. But our tradition states that the Ascension is observed on the Thursday before the 7th Sunday of Easter, and let’s be honest, who is coming to church on a Thursday? So today, on the Sunday after the Ascension, we get part of that Ascension text. A text that starts with the disciples asking Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Ugh, face palm.
Like, were you guys not paying attention for the last 3 years? After all this time you’re still thinking that Israel is the place, the only place, to be? You spent the last chunk of your lives with Jesus, the Son of God, and you still don’t get what this way of life is all about?
But without really giving an actual coherent response, Jesus is raised up toward heaven and disappears.
And I can just see the dumbfounded look on the disciples’ faces as they watched Jesus leave, and once he was out of sight they’d be like, “uh so is that a yes?” And what I like about this story out of Acts is that the two men in white robes, who we’d imagine would have been angels, weren’t doing the angel thing and floating above their heads with their little wings and riding on little clouds. But they were standing there with the disciples, among them. And what they say to them kind of snaps them back to reality.
“What are you looking at?”
I mean, the answer is obvious they just saw a physical human just supermanning himself in the sky up up and away, so of course they’d be looking at that. But I think the question from these men in white sheds some insight on Jesus’ whole ministry. They ask (as translated in this version into English): “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.”
As in, why are you looking up? What are you hoping to see? Don’t you know that Jesus had already promised you an Advocate that will be among you and abide with you forever? See the whole “he’ll be back in the same way you saw him go” thing to me doesn’t mean that Jesus will come back swooping down from the sky, but that he, like that Advocate, will be with us, among us, and in our midst. See, those men in white were telling the disciples to quit looking up for Jesus, because they can see Jesus all around them, in the remnants of his teaching, in the effects of his ministry, in the results of his saving love.
So then this is the Jesus in us that greets the Jesus in us. I mean, not in such a goofy sounding way, but it’s Jesus residing in our hearts, occupying our minds, and guiding our faith that joins us together. It’s Jesus filling our lives with love that shows us true community in his name. It’s Jesus, who prays this Priestly Prayer that we get in today’s gospel lesson, that brings us together to be his body in the world.
“God, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” Jesus prays. “Glorify” here means “to make known”. So Jesus is asking God to make him known to the people, so that he in turn can make God known through his teachings, actions, and very life. And then Jesus prays for us, that we, God’s people, can make both of them known, to glorify them. And Jesus goes on about what his is God’s and what is God’s is his, but he ends off today with “protect them in your name that you have given me, that they may be one, as we are one.”
This is beautiful. Jesus, who had every right to despise people for being so oblivious to his teachings and example, reveals to his disciples and us just how much he cares for us and wants us to know grace and forgiveness. Jesus, who welcomed the sinner and the outcast, invites us all in to be part of God’s kingdom and community. Jesus, who suffered under the hands of those he came to save, prays for us to be one as he and God are one.
That we may be one as they are one.
May we be one in God’s name. May we be one by the power of the Spirit. May we be one by the love and grace of Christ in each of us and in all the world.
So as we approach the end of this Easter season, may we remember the lessons taught and the community and relationships that were built, that we might see the value and worth in each of us, given to us by God through Christ by the power of the Spirit, that we may be one as they are one. Thanks be to God. Amen.