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Every Sunday, across the world, Christians share an agreed three year cycle of Bible Readings in Sunday worship, this is called the Common Lectionary. We offer materials including prayers bible study and worship resources for each one of these Sunday's via our Lectionary Bible Notes Section. Sunday of Easter - May 24

The Ascension - Introduction

‘After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.’ Acts 1

We know that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. But these resurrection appearances did not go on indefinitely. Luke tells us that after forty days of teaching the disciples, Jesus was taken up (ascended) to heaven. The final meeting with the disciples took place on the Mount of Olives, outside Jerusalem. But what exactly happened ?

The Roman historian Dionysius wrote about Rhea Silvia (Ilia) being visited by a god, who tells her she will bear the twins Romulus and Remus. The god is then "hidden by a cloud and taken from the earth and borne upwards through the air". In the Hellenistic world, such ascent of a king, prophet, hero or holy man to the heavens, the place of the gods was a well known motif. It signified divinity. Hence Heracles was deified through ascent into heaven and Ganymede became immortal when Zeus lifted him into heaven to serve as cupbearer to the gods. It was also the Greek Philosophy of Plato which taught that human souls were immortal and ascended to the heavens. The point which I am making is that it was once very normal and understandable for people to think of a flat world with heaven above the clouds, to which people ascended. Hence over time we have thought of Jesus as taken up to heaven through the clouds and that in this solid area above there was a physical throne upon which Jesus would sit.

This was all thought before we had the opportunity to send spacecraft and satellites into space to reveal a huge universe bigger than any of us can fully appreciate. We now know that if Jesus embarked upon a physical journey through the clouds to place called heaven, then it would have been a very long journey indeed. Today some might prefer to think of the Ascension as a metaphor. Nowadays we do not regard heaven as place beyond the sky, we think of heaven as somewhere where God is where we will be forever. Jesus need not have floated up like Mary Poppins but could have been taken from the disciples in a much more ordinary way. Jesus going on up the mountain into the cloud is perhaps the most natural way for him to leave the disciples. However, if Jesus wanted to reassure his disciples that he was returning to glory with God, then the Ascension would need to make it clear that he was ‘going up.’ In the Old Testament when God met with people, a cloud often represented his presence and glory. The cloud may or may not have been supernatural, nevertheless is was most surely a cloud with deep symbolic significance.

For the disciples and for us the meaning is clear, Jesus has gone before us. He has left this world and is exalted to the place from which his reign will be acknowledged as he is Lord of all. This separation of Christ from his followers was the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to be given to the disciples to enable them to have God’s presence with them intimately, wherever they might be. The disciples lost the physical presence of Jesus, but they gained the spiritual presence of Jesus in a very real way. This we celebrate next week at Pentecost.

Jesus made a promise to his disciples, he was going to leave them but he would not leave them alone. After he had gone he would send the Holy Spirit to be present with them and the Holy Spirit would be like Jesus himself living alongside them. This was a bold promise, if the promise failed to come true the disciples would feel isolated and abandoned and be unable to face the challenges which Jesus had entrusted to them. However if Jesus was as good as his word then the disciples would feel able to conquer the world. With Jesus alongside them in their mission there was nothing of which they need be afraid.

Of course we know from the history books that this is exactly what happened. After Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples, they became fearless in their proclamation of Jesus and they took the message of Good news right across the world. The same Holy Spirit lives with God's people today, reassuring us of the presence of God with us. Although Jesus is not physically present, he is with is and shares with us in all that we do.

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Lectionary Material for every Sunday in Years A, B, C


Future Sundays with worship, prayer and teaching resources Sundays in the Lectionary


May 17

May 24

May 31


June 14

June 21

Sixth of Easter

First after Trinity

Ordinary 11

Proper 6



the cross is the way


Each morning and each evening
let the peace of the Father, be ours.
Each day and each night
let the peace of the Son be ours.
Each dawn and each dusk
let the peace of the Spirit be ours.
Let the blessing of the three in one be ours;
both now and for ever. Amen.
Carmina Gadelica