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Introduction To The Scripture For The Seventh Sunday of Easter - Year A
Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-25; I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
The Seventh Sunday of Easter - Year A


ACTS 1:6-14			With Jesus gone from their midst and the 
promised kingdom of the Messiah not yet a reality, what was to happen 
next?  Luke answered this question not only for that time, but for all 
time.  The power of God that was at work in Jesus had now passed to the 
assembled community of men and women who followed him from Galilee to 
Jerusalem, had witnessed to his resurrection, and now formed a visible 
community of faith awaiting his return.  The church is still that visible 
community of today.


PSALM 68:1-10, 32-35 		Unique in the Psalter, this psalm has been 
described as a collection of short songs and fragments possibly used in a 
sacred procession at some festival.  It celebrated the sovereignty and 
providence of God.


1 PETER 4:12-14; 5:6-11 	A threatened persecution seemed close at 
hand.  The writer encouraged the faithful to remain steadfast after the 
example of Jesus in his suffering.  The hope of the afflicted rested on 
the promise of the constant presence of Christ who had called them to 
share his glory.  The beauty and resolute faith of the passage still 
strengthen modern disciples of Jesus who may well grow weary in a violent 
and unbelieving world.


JOHN 17:1-11			It is most unlikely that these are actual 
words of a prayer by Jesus himself.  More probably they are a meditation 
by the author of the Gospel on the humanity and divinity of Christ as seen 
in his earthly ministry, and on the divine character of the ministry 
committed to the church.  At the heart of this passage is the essential 
message of John's Gospel: Jesus has been fully revealed as the 
Messiah/Christ, the Son of God with all divine authority and power.  As 
such he gives the eternal life of God to those who believe in his true 
nature now glorified by the resurrection.


A MORE COMPLETE AANALYSIS:

ACTS 1:6-14   The ascension of Christ is told three times in the NT – 
here, in Luke 24:51 and in the 2nd century addition to Mark’s Gospel 
(16:19).  The concept of ascension to the heavens, however, was common in 
the Hellenistic world.  It was generally interpreted as a sign of divinity 
and immortality for kings, heroes, prophets or holy men to be so 
transported to the realm of the gods.  Platonism extended this symbol of 
immortality to all humanity.  While similarly demonstrating the eternal 
divinity of Jesus, this story also signaled the beginning of the messianic 
kingdom.  This, of course, involved a reinterpretation of the Jewish 
scriptures, as is obvious from vss. 6-8.  There are only two instances of 
ascension in the OT - Enoch (Gen.5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11).  Jewish 
noncanonical writings also record the ascensions of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah 
and Ezra following the Hellenistic model.

The ascension of Christ was different in that it appears to be a 
reinterpretation of Psalm 110 which celebrates the supposed ascension of a 
Judean monarch to the right hand of God.  Confirmation of this new 
reinterpretation by the apostolic church can be found in the frequent 
quotations and allusions to it throughout the NT: Matt. 22:42-46; Mark 
12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44; twice in Acts 5:31 and 7:55; four times in the 
Pauline epistles (Rom. 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1); once each 
in 1 Peter 3:22 and Revelation 3:21, but especially Hebrews where it is 
referred to eleven times (1:13; 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 15, 17, 21; 8:1; 
10:12-13; 12:2.) The figure of the Lamb standing by the throne of God in 
many references in Revelation also confirms the ascension as the church 
then understood it.

As it stands in this reading, the interpretative midrash tells a simple 
story be in which a number of historical facts may well be imbedded.  With 
Jesus gone from their midst and the promised kingdom of the Messiah not 
yet a reality, what was to happen next?  The assembled disciples posed the 
question in so many words.  Jesus answered it, not only for that time, but 
for all time.  The spiritual power of God that was at work in Jesus had 
now passed to the assembled community of men and women who followed him 
from Galilee to Jerusalem, had witnessed to his resurrection, and now 
formed a visible community of faith awaiting his return.  The church 
remains that visible community of believers to this day.

Significantly, the story has a missionary thrust which no one can ignore.  
When empowered as promised by Christ, they were to become his witnesses to 
the world (vs. 8).  In effect, this story gives “Theophilus” (1:1) the 
theme and form for the rest of the book.  It transforms the work into a 
missionary tract as distinct from recorded history.  This isn’t the story 
of how the gospel reached the heart of the Roman empire nor did it provide 
a factual account of what the apostles said and did.  This is what the 
early Christian community thought about itself, who they were and what 
motivated them to do what the Jews of Thessalonica said of them: “These 
people have been turning the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6)

The little coterie spending their time at prayer (vss. 13-14) may well 
have included many more than are named. (Cf. vs. 15 - “120 persons”)  Of 
particular importance is the presence of Jesus’ mother and brothers.  
Whereas Luke had earlier reported this family to have been alienated from 
Jesus (Luke 8:19-21), here they have no only been reconciled but have 
become believers in his resurrection and part of the missionary community.  
Some scholars have assumed that Mary’s presence contributed to the 
tradition about Jesus’ early years.  There is no doubt, however, that 
James, the brother of Jesus, subsequently became the leader of the 
Jerusalem church. (12:17; 15:12)


PSALM 68:1-10, 32-35   Unique in the Psalter, this psalm has been 
described as a collection of short songs and fragments probably used in a 
sacred procession at some festival.  It celebrated the sovereignty and 
providence of God exhibited in Israel’s covenantal history.  This reading 
consists of the opening and closing songs.

In an introductory segment (vss.1-3), the psalmist raises an exultant call 
for adoration of Yahweh by a righteous assembly processing toward the 
temple.  The remainder of this segment (vss. 4-10) celebrates the 
Israelite’s march from Sinai to Canaan with Yahweh leading them and 
providing for their needs.  Accordingly, it is not beyond imagination that 
the procession could have been a re-enactment of the Exodus.  The final 
segment draws the lessons of Israel’s history to the kingdoms of the 
world.  Divine sovereignty rests on spiritual power, a power conveyed to 
Israel through their worship.
	
As noted above, the ascension symbolizes Christ’s sovereignty with God 
which he commissioned the apostolic church to extend to the whole world.  
This psalm has the same message and mission, but attributed to Israel 
during the postexilic period.  It is not difficult to see why, with its 
messianic convictions concerning Jesus, the apostolic church could read 
such a psalm such with profound insight into its missionary task.


1 PETER 4:12-14; 5:6-11   A threatened persecution seemed close at hand.  
The writer encouraged the faithful to remain disciplined and steadfast 
after the example of Jesus in his suffering.  The hope of the afflicted 
rested on the promise of the constant presence of Christ who had called 
them to share his glory.  

Some ancient texts add the words “and of power” after “the spirit of 
glory” and before the clause “which is the Spirit of God” in vs. 14.  The 
passage thus forms a concise summary of the whole Passion story - the 
crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension and the gift of power at 
Pentecost.  As well, the expectation of Christ’s return in glory provides 
the faithful with the joyful hope they need to withstand their 
persecution.

The author vividly reiterates that torment before which the faithful are 
to humble themselves while casting their anxiety on God’s love.  Is the 
reference to the adversary as a roaring lion an actual remembrance of the 
death some of the martyrs had already suffered perhaps in the Roman 
coliseum (5:8)?  Note, however, that it is not to worldly power of the 
imperial authorities, but to “the mighty hand of God” that they are to 
humble themselves.  The writer sees the persecution as God’s way of 
bringing them to a much greater glory (vs. 6).  He encourages them to 
resist the temptation offered to them, presumably their lives in return 
for an act of obeisance before the image of the emperor.  He goes on to 
inform them that the same kind of suffering is shared by many others 
elsewhere.  After enduring a short period of distress, there awaits the 
eternal glory of Christ to which they have been called.  A brief doxology 
ends what may well have been a very moving sermon.

Though referring to events confronting those who first received the 
letter, the beauty and resolute faith of the passage still strengthen 
modern disciples of Jesus who may well grow weary in a violent and 
unbelieving world.


JOHN 17:1-11   It is most unlikely that these are actual words of a prayer 
by Jesus himself.  Scholars have tended to give it the title of “Jesus’ 
high priestly prayer,” because it includes three main topics: his own 
pending death and departure to be with God, his disciples’ continuing 
ministry in the world, and the mission of the universal church.  More 
probably this is a meditation by the author of the Gospel on the humanity 
and divinity of Christ as seen in his earthly ministry, and on the divine 
character of the ministry committed to the church.  At the heart of this 
passage is the essential message of John's Gospel: Jesus has been fully 
revealed as the Messiah/Christ, the Son of God with all divine authority 
and power.  As such he gives the eternal life of God to those who believe 
in his true nature now glorified by the resurrection.  
	
The words which stand out in the whole of this passage are “glorify” and 
its noun, “glory.” They occur no less than six times, five of these in the 
verb form so characteristic of John’s Gospel and particularly in the final 
discourse (chs. 13-17).  The “glorifying” of Christ, of course, occurred 
in his death, resurrection and ascension.  As William Barclay noted, “To 
Jesus the Cross was the glory of life and the way to the glory of 
eternity.” (*Daily Bible Readings: The Gospel of John*, Edinburgh: Church 
of Scotland, 1957)  It was in his obedience to death, “even death on the 
cross,” that Jesus glorified God, as the primitive church sang in the hymn 
Paul quoted in Phil 2:8.  More than that, writing perhaps 60 or more years 
after the resurrection, John knew that it was not Jesus’ death, but his 
resurrection, which so impelled the apostolic church to witness for Christ 
to the point of martyrdom.  Crucifixion was common, resurrection unique; 
and it was on this that the authority of the church’s preaching rested.  

Another aspect of Jesus’ glorification can be found in vs. 5 of this 
reading.  It was his way back to the glory he had with God before the 
creation of the world.  In his *Introduction to the Theology of the New 
Testament* (London: SCM Press, 1958) Alan Richardson stated that the idea 
of a pre-existent Messiah was not new.  In Judaism, “such a conception was 
only a poetic way of emphasizing the religious significance of the thing; 
and the Torah, the Temple and the Messiah were already thought of in this 
manner.” (157)  The Jewish concept of Wisdom which had much in common with 
the Stoic conception of *logos* had acquired a similar characteristic.  So 
in 1:1-14 John could write of the *logos* becoming flesh in Jesus and 
dwelling among us so that “we beheld his glory.” Now, at the end of his 
earthly life, Jesus was to be restored “with the glory (he) had in (God’s) 
presence before the world existed.” This is John’s way of defining the 
ascension of which we read in Acts 1:6-11.

Having consecrated himself to his pending death, resurrection and 
ascension, Jesus’ prayer moved to the consecration of the disciples (vss. 
6-19) of which this reading includes only the first part.  Here John 
overstated the real situation.  According to this prayer, when Jesus left 
the disciples to carry on his work, he had fully instructed them and they 
had believed all he taught them.  Contrast this with the betrayal of Judas 
Iscariot, the denial of Peter and the disciples’ initial disbelief in the 
resurrection.  

Again John picks up on the “glorification” of Christ in the continuing 
ministry of the disciples in the world (vs. 10).  This prayer emphasizes 
two ways in which this was to happen through their work: their full 
identification with Jesus and with God; and the unity of the apostolic 
teaching.  We know from the early history of the church that this plea was 
in vain.  The church struggled with two significant problems during its 
first few decades, and its still does so after two millennia: The 
faithfulness of its converts and the traumatic disunity in the way and to 
whom the gospel is proclaimed.  We know too that these issues were as 
prominent in John’s community as elsewhere.  In fact, John’s Gospel had 
been written because of these very issues.  By putting them into this 
‘high priestly prayer,’ John recalled his community to the primary purpose 
of the church: to proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ so that 
all the world may believe and be saved.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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