21 May 2023
If Ascension Day is not celebrated on the actual day (Thursday 18 May) then you may choose rather to use the resources for Ascension Day on this Sunday. However, if it is possible to celebrate Ascension Day mid-week, then this Sunday becomes a powerful bridge between the Ascension and Pentecost which follows next week. Part of what creates this meaningful journey is the focus, in the readings for Easter 7A, on Jesus’ longing for glory, and the gift of glory which he brings to his followers (which in this context is almost synonymous with ‘home’) and the ‘refugee status’ both of the incarnate Christ and of his followers who await the coming of God’s reign in fullness.
May our worship give us a glimpse of home, and lead us into a willing commitment to the life of a refugee for the sake of the Kingdom.
Acts 1:6-14: The disciples question Jesus about the timing of God’s restoration of Israel, but Jesus promises the Holy Spirit and then ascends into heaven as they watch. Then two white-robed men tell them that Jesus will return in the same way they saw him leave.
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35: A psalm of victory and praise, celebrating God’s might in military terms, and rejoicing in God’s protection of the weak and vulnerable, and in God’s provision of a home for God’s people.
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11: Peter encourages the persecuted believers, reminding them that they have witnessed Christ’s suffering and share in it, and that they have the hope of seeing Christ’s glory, and sharing in that as well.
John 17:1-11: Jesus prays for himself that God will take him back into the glory he shared with the Father. Then he prays for his disciples, who have received Christ’s message and have believed and given him glory, that they may be protected by God’s name and may be one as Christ and the Father are one.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
It may sound like a strange connection to make, but this week’s readings bring together two ideas that appear disparate – glory and refugees. Jesus was, in a sense, the ultimate refugee – choosing to leave behind his home in glory in order to live without a home (See Matthew 8:20) and to proclaim God’s Kingdom as a home for all. In the light of this, his prayer to return to glory reveals a poignant longing for home. In a similar way, in Acts, Jesus, in a cryptic, round about way, invites his disciples to give up on their hope for an earthly kingdom as home, and to recognise that God is their home. The angelic message that they will see Jesus return in the same way he left is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in John 14:2-3. For the Psalmist, God’s victory brings a place of safety and belonging to the most vulnerable and to God’s people. Peter encourages the believers to endure persecution because, as they share in Christ’s suffering, so they also have the hope of sharing in Christ’s glory – Christ’s home. So, even as Jesus the Refugee longed for home, and opened the way for his followers to find a home in God’s Kingdom (God’s glory) so we live as refugees, at home in God’s glory, but, walking in this world, unable as yet to see and experience it completely. And as Christ the Refugee sought to provide a home for refugees – the marginalised, the poor, the excluded and the suffering – so, as we are called to follow him, we are called to be one with Christ and the Father, not just in their glory, but also in their home-building mission.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: The plight of refugees is never long forgotten in our world. Almost daily we are faced with images of those who have lost homes through war and conflict, through natural disasters, through political exile or through the impact of poverty. Millions of people find themselves as refugees, and the majority of them (75% I believe) are women. The impact of homelessness on the dignity and humanity of those who live it is immeasurable, and is a massive challenge to those of us who seek to follow Christ. But, there is much that we can do. We can support calls for international assistance in places of conflict that cause the displacement of people. We can lobby for the cancellation of unjust debts that cripple third world countries and leave many of their people destitute. We can vote for and work for more equitable international trade regulations that enable poorer countries to compete on a level playing field, and that can help to boost their economies. We can help, through our influence, our voice and our participation in political processes, to ensure that aid that is promised to poor countries is delivered. We can speak out against the corruption in international business deals that would line the pockets of a few and stop benefits reaching those who most need them. Perhaps we can even travel to refugee camps (or local homeless shelters) and offer comfort, food and compassion to those who feel rejected and forgotten by the world. Whatever we may choose to do, we cannot follow the Refugee Christ and turn a blind eye to those who are displaced. And then, along with whatever social and material help we may offer, we can continue to invite people into the home that is God’s glory, God’s reign, where all people are equally welcome at the table, and all belong equally.
LOCAL APPLICATION: If the church is called to be anything it is called to be a home to the homeless and displaced. This does not just mean those who lack a physical home, but those who find themselves alone without a family, without friends, without a spiritual or emotional home. Unfortunately, though, it is too often the Church that leaves people as refugees, turning them away from the community of faith for no reason other than that they are different – in gender, sexuality, colour, culture, language, theology or appearance. Every community has people who long for a place to find a home in God’s grace and God’s Kingdom. These refugees are deeply loved and unconditionally welcomed by Christ, and we are called to manifest this as we open our doors and our hearts to them. More than this, we are called to seek out those who long to know the promise of God’s Spirit. This calling has a huge impact on how we identify ourselves as Church, on how we understand our mission, and on how we worship. As William Temple said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those that are not its members.” The challenge for us is to recognise that we are a refugee community – one that does not find its home in the kingdoms of this world, or by controlling political power structures (as the disciples had to learn), but one that waits for, that longs for, a return to glory, to a home that is eternal and that is both manifest now and yet to be realised fully in the future. Once we have truly grasped this, we find we cannot help but stand alongside and seek to serve those who find themselves to be refugees of every kind. What might it mean for your church to view itself as a refugee community?
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Biographers Of The Least
Weak And Poor God
A Way Home
Your Kingdom Come
To God Be The Glory
And Can It Be
We Rest On Thee Our Shield And Our Defender
God Is Our Strength And Refuge
I Cannot Tell Why He Whom Angels Worship
Always Forever (Link to YouTube video)
Your Grace Is Enough (Link to YouTube video)
The Power Of Your Love (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy for the Breaking of Bread
Jesus Said These Things
Hospitality & Salvation