Lectionary Study - The Ascension of Jesus

By Matthew Potts - May 26, 2009

May 31 is the day of Pentecost ("fiftieth day" in Greek), one of the three great feasts of the Church (celebrated, ironically, on the forty-ninth day of Easter!). This year, we celebrate Pentecost with readings from year B of the lectionary. You can read the selected passages for this Sunday here:
http://divinity.library.vanderbilt.edu/lectionary/BEaster/bPentecost.htm

First lesson
Acts 2:1-21
The ten days on our liturgical calendar from the fortieth day of Easter to the fiftieth day are all related in the first chapter and a half of Acts. Acts begins with Luke's description of Jesus' promise that the Holy Spirit will soon be coming. Then, on the fortieth day after Easter (Ascension Day, which we considered last week), Luke describes the departure of Jesus. The end of chapter one meanwhile recounts the replacement of the apostle Judas with Matthias. Then, in our reading this week, we hear of this miracle of Pentecost. The apostles gather, a rush of wind fills the room, and each apostle is touched with a tongue of flame and the ability to speak a different language. Then, Peter explains the miracle to the Judeans who have witnessed it. (Most humorously, he insists to them, "We couldn't be drunk! It's only nine o'clock in the morning!") The word "apostle" means "one sent forth as a messenger" in Greek. What does this lesson tell us about these "ones sent forth as messengers," these apostles? To whom are they to be messengers? How do you think the Holy Spirit is linked to the spread of this message? Why do you think it is linked? Pentecost is often called the "birthday of the Church." Why do you think this is, given our lesson from Acts? What does our lesson indicate the Church is meant to be?

Second lesson
Romans 8:22-27
Paul begins this brief passage by describing all of creation as being in labor. Recall that in the book of Genesis, one of the curses upon humanity after the fall into sin was pain during childbirth, and Paul's comments here about the labor pains of creation most likely invoke these Old Testament verses. The reference also recalls something Paul has said in the fifth chapter of Romans about Christ as the new Adam, the figure of salvation for all humanity. What do you think the relationship between the old creation and the new creation is? Why do you think Paul here emphasizes all of creation, and not just all humankind? Finally, Paul calls the Spirit our intercessor, the one who intercedes for us "with sighs too deep for words" when our prayers fail. Is this how you think of the Spirit? What role do you think the Holy Spirit plays in prayer?

Gospel
John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
For weeks now, our gospel reading has related portions of Jesus' final teaching to the disciples at the last supper. And that pattern continues today as Jesus warns the disciples of his departure, but then promises them an "Advocate," the Holy Spirit. There are (at least) two perplexing aspects to Jesus' description of the Advocate in these lines. First, it seems that the Holy Spirit is very much a replacement, even a stand-in, for the Son. What Jesus has left to say he hasn't the time to reveal, so the Spirit will reveal it on Jesus' behalf. Second, and even more perplexingly, Jesus says that he must leave so the Spirit can come. There is some "advantage" in the coming of the Spirit that Jesus implies he will not (even cannot?) impart. What do you think these statements say about the relationship between the Son and the Spirit? Next week is Trinity Sunday, so we'll think more about this all soon, but what about the relationships among Son, Spirit, and Father? Last, Jesus says the Spirit will prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. What do you think is wrong with the world's ideas about sin, righteousness, and judgment?

Other helpful resources

Comments, Observations, Questions
The Center for the Excellence in Preaching, Calvin Theological Seminary
http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/

Pentecost sermon
The Rev. Susan E. Watson
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work_107741_ENG_HTM.htm

Pentecost sermon
The Rev. Edward F. Markquart
http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/pentecost_firsthand.htm