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Sunday 24th May 2020 – Sunday after Ascension

We come from scattered lives to meet with God.
Let us recognize his presence with us.
Lord, direct our thoughts, and teach us to pray.
Lift up our hearts to worship you in spirit and in truth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Psalm: 68:1-10,32-end
 1 Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
   let those who hate him flee before him.
 2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
   as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.
 3 But let the righteous be joyful;
   let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.
 4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
   lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds—
   his name is the Lord— be exultant before him.
 5 Father of orphans and protector of widows
   is God in his holy habitation.
 6 God gives the desolate a home to live in;
   he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.
 7 O God, when you went out before your people,
   when you marched through the wilderness,    
 8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
   at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
 9  Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
   you restored your heritage when it languished;
10  your flock found a dwelling in it;
    in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
32  Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
    sing praises to the Lord,       
33  O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
    listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
34  Ascribe power to God,
    whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.
35  Awesome is God in his sanctuary,
    the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people.

First Reading: Acts 1:6-14
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But 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.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards 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.’
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Epistle: 1 Peter 4:12-14,5:6-11
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

The Gospel: John 17:1-11
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one’.

O God the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
we beseech you, leave us not comfortless,
but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us
and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Homily: Waiting.
In life before lockdown we waited - for buses, hospital appointments, plumbers, midnight on New Year’s Eve. Now, in lockdown, we are still waiting; for the lockdown to be eased, for the infection rate to fall, for our churches to be open again, to be able to see our families and friends. None of us know when that will be. All we can do is have faith in scientists, epidemiologists and politicians, that it will happen one day.
Some of us are better at waiting than others. Some are naturally more patient, relaxed, laid back. Others are fidgety, impatient, time-watching. But it makes no difference, whether we are good at it or not, time moves at the same speed. And all any of us can do is wait – yet also try to be alert, to be ready for when the waiting ends.
I think it may have been a little like this for the disciples of Jesus after the Ascension and maybe what we’re experiencing now can give us greater insight into how it was for them. Equally, looking at what they did may help us today to get through this period of waiting in a more positive way.
The disciples had been on an emotional roller-coaster – the hope and expectation of Palm Sunday replaced by a feeling of foreboding during Holy Week, the horror of the Crucifixion, the devastation that their beloved friend and master had been killed and buried. And then the bewilderment, uncertainty, doubt and then joy of Easter Day when he appeared to them again, alive! But things were not the same; he didn’t stay with them as before but kept appearing and then disappearing. And finally, after forty days, as we read in Acts, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight.
What were they to do? Was he coming back again or not? Should they wait on the mountainside? Fortunately, Jesus had told them what to do, what would happen, as we heard in John’s gospel as well as in Acts. They were to return to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
This they did. They didn’t know at that time, how long they would need to wait, or what the coming of the Holy Spirit would be like, how it would change their lives, how they would go out and spread the gospel. But they trusted in the promise of Jesus and while they waited, they stayed together and they prayed – constantly, devoting themselves to it, so being ready for when the promise was fulfilled, whenever that might be. It must have been so hard for them, yet they stayed faithful.
That time of prayerful waiting is the inspiration for ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, this nine days of prayer that started at Ascension and continues to Pentecost next Sunday, a time when we pray for others to come to know Jesus but also for ourselves, that God will equip us to share our faith and to live life in all its fullness. This year, as we wait, we do perhaps have more time to pray and reflect on what this might mean for us as lockdown is lifted. Will we be able to immediately go back to life, faith, church, being exactly as before? Probably not. It wasn’t for the disciples either.
But if we’ve let him, God will have taught each of us many things while we’ve been waiting. We may have realised how uncertain, how fragile life can be and recognised that he alone is our rock, our anchor, the one on who we can depend.  Will he have shown each of us new ways, new skills that we can use to share his love for us with others?  I really believe so.
So while we wait, let us pray too; for a world in need of hearing of God’s love and faithfulness and for the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on each of us, so that we can play our part in telling this good news, now and when the waiting ends.

Let us join our prayers with those of our Saviour Christ,
seeking the Father’s blessing and the gifts of the Spirit.

Jesus Christ, great high priest,
living for ever to intercede for us,
pray for the Church, your broken body in the world …
Jesus Christ, king of righteousness,
enthroned at the right hand of the majesty on high,
pray for the world, and make it subject to your gentle rule …
Jesus Christ, Son of Man,
drawing humanity into the life of God,
pray for your brothers and sisters in need, distress or sorrow …
Jesus Christ, pioneer of our salvation,
bringing us to glory through your death and resurrection,
surround with your saints and angels
those who have died trusting your promises …
Jesus Christ, Lord over all things,
ascended far above the heavens and filling the universe,
pray for us who receive the gifts you give us for work in your service …
Jesus Christ,
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at your feet;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

God of our salvation,
you have restored us to life,
you have brought us back again into your love
by the triumphant death and resurrection of Christ.
Continue to heal us,
as we go to live and work
in the power of your Spirit,
to your praise and glory.

Now may the blessing of God the Father,
who made from one every nation that occupies the earth;
of God the Son who bought us for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation;
and of God the Spirit who brings us together in unity,
be with us and remain with us always.

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