Welcome to worship for May 16, 2021, the 7th Sunday of Easter! As you’ll see in the video, we’ll be observing the Ascension of Jesus in today’s service, which basically means that we’ll be getting the texts for Ascension Day (which was on Thursday, May 13). The rest of the service will be essentially the same.
The worship bulletin can be found here. The bulletin has the order of worship, all the words of the liturgy, the page numbers out of the Now the Feast booklet and the hymn numbers out of the ELW, and the sermon in full. The sermon is also found on this page below the video, and the words that you need to know in the liturgy will be on your screen.
If you would like a more full at-home worship experience, you may have some elements in your space. For the Thanksgiving for Baptism, you may have a bowl of water to interact with. For communion, you may have something small to eat and drink to be consumed during the singing of the Lamb of God. And for the whole service, you may have a lit candle that can be extinguished with the candles in the church. These are all optional, but meant to be helpful for you in your worship if you should deem it so.
May God be with you throughout this service and always!
God, enlighten the eyes of our hearts and grant us a spirit of wisdom and revelation through the love and presence of your Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So I finally got my appointment to get my COVID vaccination, after a very long wait to get my notification that I could even book. It’s pretty late for my age group, as basically everyone I know that was registered and eligible had their shot already, regardless if they live in a high transmission zone or not (which I apparently do live in one). After I got my booking, one of my friends was super excited and happy for me, while at best, I was just “meh.”
It’s not that I don’t want it or think that it’s necessary to get or anything, nor is it because I don’t think it’d be effective, it’s nothing like that. I just wasn’t in a super rush to get it, nor was I really bothered that everyone around me was getting it before I was. I couldn’t really explain why I feel this way. I couldn’t explain why I wasn’t more in a hurry or anxious about it, I couldn’t explain my lack of excitement when I finally did get the notification that said I could book or that sense of relief that a lot of my friends did when they got theirs. I couldn’t explain why I don’t feel the urgency to take a picture of that sticker they give you and post it up on all my socials.
I couldn’t explain it, that is, until I read the texts for this Ascension Day. See, like I mentioned to some of you prior to this, Ascension Day actually lands on the 40th day after Easter Sunday. The way the math works means that it will always be on a Thursday, and never a Sunday. So we literally won’t ever get these texts in a regular service if we stuck to the actual church calendar. But as I read them just for fun because I’m kind of nerdy that way, they really spoke to me. The journey of the disciples from the ministry, to the death, to the resurrection, and then to the ascension of Jesus would be such a roller coaster. The emotions they must have gone through from the joy and peace of knowing and being able to hang out with and learn from the Messiah, to the sorrow and guilt of seeing him arrested and crucified and not having done anything to stop it, to the elation and relief to see that he is back and has forgiven them, but then to the disappointment and confusion when he just ups and floats away without even bringing about that restoration of Israel that they were so looking forward to. All of that must have been so turbulent and traumatizing that they might be left with not knowing who to trust ever again. It’s like Jesus was everything they dreamed he would be, but at the same time not at all anything like they imagined or expected.
All their eggs were in that basket and every single one of those eggs seemed to have been smashed into unrecognisable bits. Their excitement in seeing a political victory for Israel was burst into flames when Jesus unexpectedly lifted off. Their hope in seeing that joy once again popped and left them feeling deflated.
Because, as the texts suggests, the disciples, even after 3 years of following and learning from Jesus, had only one thing in mind: the end of the oppressive Roman rule. The restoration of the full Jewish occupation in the Promised Land. They wanted Israel to be great again by their own narrow definition of great. Ok, I guess that was three things.
See, they had this tunnel vision. They couldn’t see past their own vision of the future. They weren’t able to fully understand Jesus’ lessons and teachings because they were just a bit too caught up in having things the way that they wanted them to be. It wasn’t until Jesus opened their eyes to God’s Word and him actually leaving them by floating up into the clouds that they were able to really get the joy and fulfilment that he was talking about the whole time. The “joy” they would have gotten from any kind of restoration to Israel would have paled in comparison. The “fulfillment” that they would have received from seeing their enemies being punished would have only lasted until the next conqueror or conflict arose. Their “great” wasn’t all that great at all. But yet, that is what their hope was in, something fleeting, something perhaps a little selfish, something that wasn’t the lasting love, grace, and mercy of God.
And… this is why I think I wasn’t all that excited to get the vaccine. Let me reiterate, I will be getting it, I’m booked and everything, don’t you worry about that. It’s just that… well, I’m not sure how much is going to change after I do. I’m not sure if this vaccine will do all it’s promising to do, that it’ll get us out of this pandemic and back into normal. I’m not sure if we’re putting too many of those eggs in this vaccination basket, because I’m afraid what will happen if things don’t get back to what we expect them to, and how that might introduce a whole host of other problems that would put our current problems to shame.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not out to burst your vaccine bubble or anything. I’m just trying to be cautious and guard my own heart and expectation. I’m worried that this isn’t the happily ever after so many are hoping that it might be. I’m scared that we are putting too much faith in this vaccine, thinking that it will be our saviour.
Because the thing is, we already have a Saviour who has saved us from before we were even born.
This isn’t to say that we don’t need to get the COVID vaccine or any vaccine for that matter, but it is to say that our faith and happiness needn’t and shouldn’t lie on things that might not be able to deliver. It is to say that our joy doesn’t rely on the condition of a broken world. It is to say that our position and identity as God’s beloved children isn’t dependant or any way affected by this pandemic, the end of this pandemic, or us regaining what we think is normal or not. I’m also not saying that the vaccine won’t help us or bring life as we know it back to “normal”, but I’m saying that when it comes to our faith, it shouldn’t matter if it does or not.
Rather, we can trust in the promises of grace and mercy from God, look to the empty cross to be reminded of who we are and whose we are, and have the deep seated joy of Christ made complete in us. We can look at the situation that we find ourselves in, look to see how God rises us up out of it, and have that love revealed to us through our community and beyond. We can put our faith and hope in knowing that while the physical manifestation of God’s Word in Jesus was lifted up off this earth, that the Spirit of Christ, God, and all things good continues to reside in us and through us, showing us the good news and empowering us to apply that to our lives as God’s witnesses, acting as God’s hands and feet in the world.
I once heard a story of a pastor named Brad Schmeling out of Minneapolis in the States, who was helping to lead worship at a conference that he was at. The service that he was helping to plan just happened to land on Ascension Day that year, and the group wasn’t entirely sure how they would drive the recognition of the day home for the people. Someone brought up the old tradition of extinguishing the Christ candle, that is typically lit throughout the Easter season, during the reading of the gospel. They took that idea and ran with it. But instead of just blowing it out, representing Christ leaving the building so to speak, they had a dancer move around the space, passing smaller candles that were lit from the Christ Candle to the participants of worship. After all of these were handed out, the dancer went back up to the Christ candle and extinguished it, revealing to all that while that particular flame was out, it had already ignited a sea of flickering candles, its warm glow representing the Spirit of Christ out in the world, residing with, in, and through the church, God’s children, and all of God’s kingdom bringing joy and peace to all that it encounters.
Of course, we can’t do something like that here and now, not through the internet at least. But we can take that image, and see that while we can’t be in person here at the church still, while we can’t meet physically face to face and embrace each other, while we can’t together break bread and share in a meal, we can still revel in the Spirit of Christ, shining in and through us and maybe even in spite of us, showing us and all people the love of God that cannot be extinguished, not by any pandemic, not by any vaccine, not by any kind of darkness whatsoever.
So as we approach the end of the Easter season, may we lift up this light of God as it leads us and guides us into service, into community, and into everlasting joy and steadfast love. Thanks be to God. Amen.