Thursday, May 26, 2022 is Ascension C. This week we had the worst school shooting in the history of Texas.

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.

Psalm 47 – God has gone up with a shout. (Ps. 47:5)
Psalm 93– Ever since the world began, your throne has been established. (Ps. 93:3)

Ephesians 1:15-23– With the eyes of your heart enlightened, may you know the hope to which God has called you.

Luke 24:44-53 – I am sending what the Father promised, so stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, 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.”

Ascension Day

This week is Ascension Sunday (Acts 1), followed by Pentecost next week (Acts 2). The texts for Ascension are the same for all three years (A, B and C) of the Revised Common Lectionary.

Ascension Day is one of the six major festivals of the church year. It falls on Thursday, however many Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic congregations celebrate it on the following Sunday.

The Feast of the Ascension marks a novena, nine days of prayer for the gift of Holy Spirit after Ascension Thursday, before the Feast of Pentecost on Sunday.

As Gail Ramshaw says, Luke uses the term “heaven” to suggest a spatial realm inhabited by God and the angels. Whatever ones model for the universe, Jesus goes to be where God is. Therefore, the ascension is a foreshadowing of our own resurrection, our own entrance into heaven. It is a mystical understanding of the transition from this life to the next both in body and spirit.

Several characters in the Bible are declared to be assumed into heaven: Jesus, Enoch and Elijah. Lutherans do not subscribe to the Assumption of Mary, but in 1950 Pope Pius XII declared:

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

Other religions besides Judaism and Christianity have ascensions. For example, in Hinduism, Yudhishthira of the Mahabharata is believed to be the only human to cross the plane between mortals and heaven in his mortal body. In Islam, Muhammed is believed to have ascended into heaven at the site of Dome of the Rock. An ascension therefore, was a mystical way that ancients proclaimed the uniqueness of a human character with divine qualities.

The Ascension of Jesus is professed in all three ecumenical creeds. Ascension Day is a public holiday in some countries. It is not mentioned by Matthew, Mark or Paul, though the author of Ephesians cryptically alludes to it, saying Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, who has placed all things “under his feet.” It is unknown if these authors were completely unaware of Luke and John’s story of the ascension or if the Ascension simply didn’t figure prominently enough in their theology to mention it. The Ascension appears in Luke/Acts and is mentioned in John.

Preaching Ascension

There are five Ascension Day sermons by Luther, three on Mark’s commission (the not-so-great commission) and two on John. The former tend to focus on the things that the post-resurrection Jesus said to the disciples in the 40 days between the resurrection and ascension.

Two things about these sermons by Luther: First, I am struck with how long these sermons are. I have been told by Luther scholars that Luther’s sermons were actually shorter than those of his contemporaries, but these particular sermons are certainly not short by modern standards. Second, it is interesting how mission-focused these sermons are. Luther the evangelism guy. The John sermons are shorter, focused on faith and gospel, as usual. None of them spend time on the actual physical act of ascension. Luther seems more interested in the implications: Jesus’ expectations for his church.

In a similar vein, Walter Brueggeman picks up the theme of evangelism in a 2007 Christian Century article, “Blogging toward Sunday (Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53)” May 14, 2007: The Ascension is about Jesus’ departure, instructions, and promise to return. Like Luther, Brueggeman focuses on the instructions – the church’s marching orders. One might say they are Jesus’ strategic plan for the church:

  1. Stay here.
  2. Receive the gift of power.
  3. Be witnesses.

Wait. Receive. Acts.

Notice the outwardly-focused nature of these instructions. This book is the Acts of the Apostles. They don’t sit back and bask in the glory of their salvation. In fact they are nearly chided by the angels for gazing into heaven.

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Jerusalem was the city in which they were currently located. Judea was the wider region in which Jerusalem was located. Samaria was the area to the north, the people with whom Jews did not associate. The ends of the earth left the mission field wide open. This vision would be realized on Pentecost when people came from all over the Roman empire to Jerusalem to experience the wind of the Spirit, and then return home to spread the good news and be witnesses of what God is doing. This outwardly-emanating mission activity sets the structure of the rest of the Acts of the Apostles: Peter, John, Stephen and the disciples begin in Jerusalem and Judea. By Acts 8 Philip is in Samaria. Eventually we spend the largest part of Acts following Paul to the ends of the earth.

The net affect of all this mission activity was to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6):

When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…”

Would the church get accused of this today? Would we be accused of having a witness so compelling that it was turning the world upside down? Is our witness so profound that we could get dragged before the authorities?

H“Why do you stand there gazing into heaven?” There is a garden to plant and water, weed and feed. There is witnessing to do – witnessing to the hope that lies within us.

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:23-25

Always be ready to give account for the hope that is in you…

1 Peter 3:15

Perhaps this is Luke’s warning for a hyper-spiritualized church. Getting lost in an other-worldly heavenly-gazing spirituality that doesn’t focus on the suffering of this world is inconsistent with Jesus’ reality-engaging earthly ministry. Don’t stand there gazing merrily up into heaven. Don’t build booths on the Mount of Transfiguration. Get to work on a gritty earthly ministry as Jesus did. Jesus’ church is called to mission. Perhaps this is a good Sunday to preach a sermon on mission, as did Luther.

This week

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Jeremiah 31:15

Our hearts are broken by the senseless loss of life in Buffalo and Uvalde.

On Sunday, we will all stand before congregations that are grieving and reeling from the events of this week. Like me, I know you are struggling for the words. Linked here are two documents. This first document is an outline adapted from All Creation Sings. Y aqua esta en español, gracias a Pastora Adriana Johnson Rivas. There are lots of prayers and scriptures that you can use. This second document has a lament that can be used in place of the confession/remembrance of baptism before the first hymn. It also includes a list of those who lost their lives in Uvalde. The list is incomplete, so check the news before Sunday. Y aqua esta el lamento en Español, gracias a Pastora Adriana Johnson Rivas.

My prayers are with you as we grieve in this country and in our congregations.

But let us not stand here gazing into heaven. How will we witness to the hope within us? Are we prepared to turn the world upside down? How do we witness to the one who was also the victim of violence on the cross? Will our prayers lead us to action that leads to change in this country beset by gun violence?

We have been talking about gun violence a lot in the ELCA over the last thirty years of my ministry, but we have not done enough. HERE is a 1993 statement on gun control, put out when I was in mt fist call. HERE is a summary, put out in 2019, about what has been done. But we have not done enough. Resolutions and letters are not enough. We have an epidemic in this country, unseen in other countries. We have long been calling for a ban on assault rifles and a national registry. If we are afraid to shout it from the rooftops, we are saying we value our assault weapons above our children.

If you wish to be a part of turning the world upside down and are willing to risk being dragged before magistrates, there is an Interfaith Protest tomorrow, Friday, May 27, 2022. You can find information and register HERE.

Liturgically speaking

  • Ascension in North America is not as recognized as Christmas and Easter, but along with Epiphany, Trinity and Pentecost, it is one of the six major festivals of the church year. In some countries it is a national holiday. So, play it up. Add some festive elements to the liturgy. A large procession. Helium balloons that ascend may be out of place this year since we are grieving. Process an icon of the Ascension.
  • Consider adapting the dismissal for this Sunday to reflect the call to witness.

P: You will be my witnesses!
C: In Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth!

P: Go in peace; witness to the truth.
C: Thanks be to God!

  • During the Creed consider ringing handbells during the latter part of the second petition that begins, “He ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come…”
  • Incense is traditional for Ascension. Consider burning incense as the psalm is chanted, or process it with a thurible.

I leave you with some prayers. First, the Collect for the Feast of the Ascension (from the Mass of St. Pius V):

Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we who believe Thine only-begotten Son, our Redeemer, to have this day ascended into heaven, may dwell in spirit amid heavenly things. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.


Life-giving God, before leaving, Jesus commissioned his followers to be witnesses. Grant that your church today may proclaim the love of Christ and the hope of the resurrection at home, in the community and to the ends of the earth, through Jesus Christ. Amen

Almighty God, your only Son was taken into the heavens and in your presence intercedes for us. Receive us and our prayers for all the world, and in the end bring everything into your glory, through Jesus Christ, our Sovereign and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Almighty God, your blessed Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things. Mercifully give us faith to trust that, as he promised, he abides with us on earth to the end of time, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

We mourn

Irma Garcia, teacher
Eva Mireles, teacher and the children:

Nevaeh Bravo
Makenna Lee Elrod 
Jose’ Flores
Ellie Garcia
Uziyah Garcia
Amerie Jo Garza
Xavier Javier Lopez
Jacie Carmelo Luevanos
Tess Matta
Miranda Matthis
Alithia Ramirez
Salvador Ramos
Annabelle Guadalupe Rodriguez
Maite Yuleanna Rodriguez
Jailah Nicole Selguero
Eliahana Cruz Torres
Elijah Cruz Torres
Rogelio Torres
One other, whose name is not yet released

We remember…

Thurston High School.

Columbine High School.

Heritage High School.

Deming Middle School.

Fort Gibson Middle School.

Buell Elementary School.

Lake Worth Middle School.

University of Arkansas.

Junipero Serra High School.

Santana High School.

Bishop Neumann High School.

Pacific Lutheran University.

Granite Hills High School.

Lew Wallace High School.

Martin Luther King, Jr. High School.

Appalachian School of Law.

Washington High School.

Conception Abbey.

Benjamin Tasker Middle School.

University of Arizona.

Lincoln High School.

John McDonogh High School.

Red Lion Area Junior High School.

Case Western Reserve University.

Rocori High School.

Ballou High School.

Randallstown High School.

Bowen High School.

Red Lake Senior High School.

Harlan Community Academy High School.

Campbell County High School.

Milwee Middle School.

Roseburg High School.

Pine Middle School.

Essex Elementary School.

Duquesne University.

Platte Canyon High School.

Weston High School.

West Nickel Mines School.

Joplin Memorial Middle School.

Henry Foss High School.

Compton Centennial High School.

Virginia Tech.

Success Tech Academy.

Miami Carol City Senior High School.

Hamilton High School.

Louisiana Technical College.

Mitchell High School.

E.O. Green Junior High School.

Northern Illinois University.

Lakota Middle School.

Knoxville Central High School.

Willoughby South High School.

Henry Ford High School.

University of Central Arkansas.

Dillard High School.

Dunbar High School.

Hampton University.

Harvard College.

Larose-Cut Off Middle School.

International Studies Academy.

Skyline College.

Discovery Middle School.

University of Alabama.

DeKalb School.

Deer Creek Middle School.

Ohio State University.

Mumford High School.

University of Texas.

Kelly Elementary School.

Marinette High School.

Aurora Central High School.

Millard South High School.

Martinsville West Middle School.

Worthing High School.

Millard South High School.

Highlands Intermediate School.

Cape Fear High School.

Chardon High School.

Episcopal School of Jacksonville.

Oikos University.

Hamilton High School.

Perry Hall School.

Normal Community High School.

University of South Alabama.

Banner Academy South.

University of Southern California.

Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Apostolic Revival Center Christian School.

Taft Union High School.

Osborn High School.

Stevens Institute of Business and Arts.

Hazard Community and Technical College.

Chicago State University.

Lone Star College-North.

Cesar Chavez High School.

Price Middle School.

University of Central Florida.

New River Community College.

Grambling State University.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School.

Ronald E. McNair Discovery Academy.

North Panola High School.

Carver High School.

Agape Christian Academy.

Sparks Middle School.

North Carolina A&T State University.

Stephenson High School.

Brashear High School.

West Orange High School.

Arapahoe High School.

Edison High School.

Liberty Technology Magnet High School.

Hillhouse High School.

Berrendo Middle School.

Purdue University.

South Carolina State University.

Los Angeles Valley College.

Charles F. Brush High School.

University of Southern California.

Georgia Regents University.

Academy of Knowledge Preschool.

Benjamin Banneker High School.

D. H. Conley High School.

East English Village Preparatory Academy.

Paine College.

Georgia Gwinnett College.

John F. Kennedy High School.

Seattle Pacific University.

Reynolds High School.

Indiana State University.

Albemarle High School.

Fern Creek Traditional High School.

Langston Hughes High School.

Marysville Pilchuck High School.

Florida State University.

Miami Carol City High School.

Rogers State University.

Rosemary Anderson High School.

Wisconsin Lutheran High School.

Frederick High School.

Tenaya Middle School.

Bethune-Cookman University.

Pershing Elementary School.

Wayne Community College.

J.B. Martin Middle School.

Southwestern Classical Academy.

Savannah State University.

Harrisburg High School.

Umpqua Community College.

Northern Arizona University.

Texas Southern University.

Tennessee State University.

Winston-Salem State University.

Mojave High School.

Lawrence Central High School.

Franklin High School.

Muskegon Heights High School.

Independence High School.

Madison High School.

Antigo High School.

University of California-Los Angeles.

Jeremiah Burke High School.

Alpine High School.

Townville Elementary School.

Vigor High School.

Linden McKinley STEM Academy.

June Jordan High School for Equity.

Union Middle School.

Mueller Park Junior High School.

West Liberty-Salem High School.

University of Washington.

King City High School.

North Park Elementary School.

North Lake College.

Freeman High School.

Mattoon High School.

Rancho Tehama Elementary School.

Aztec High School.

Wake Forest University.

Italy High School.

NET Charter High School.

Marshall County High School.

Sal Castro Middle School.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Great Mills High School

Central Michigan University

Huffman High School

Frederick Douglass High School

Forest High School

Highland High School

Dixon High School

Santa Fe High School

Noblesville West Middle School

University of North Carolina Charlotte

STEM School Highlands Ranch

Edgewood High School

Palm Beach Central High School

Providence Career & Technical Academy

Fairley High School (school bus)

Canyon Springs High School

Dennis Intermediate School

Florida International University

Central Elementary School

Cascade Middle School

Davidson High School

Prairie View A & M University

Altascocita High School

Central Academy of Excellence

Cleveland High School

Robert E. Lee High School

Cheyenne South High School

Grambling State University

Blountsville Elementary School

Holmes County, Mississippi (school bus)

Prescott High School

College of the Mainland

Wynbrooke Elementary School

UNC Charlotte

Riverview Florida (school bus)

Second Chance High School

Carman-Ainsworth High School

Williwaw Elementary School

Monroe Clark Middle School

Central Catholic High School

Jeanette High School

Eastern Hills High School

DeAnza High School

Ridgway High School

Reginald F. Lewis High School

Saugus High School

Pleasantville High School

Waukesha South High School

Oshkosh High School

Catholic Academy of New Haven

Bellaire High School

North Crowley High School

McAuliffe Elementary School

South Oak Cliff High School

Texas A&M University-Commerce

Sonora High School

Western Illinois University

Oxford High School

Robb Elementary School