Ascension Day


Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 1, 1-11
2nd Reading
Eph 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53
German protestant sermon text is 1 Kings 8, 22-24.
by Revd Elke Wedler-Krüger, Protestant Church of the Palatinate, Germany

In Germany, all denominations hold outdoor services on Ascension Day. Most church buildings remain empty. People gather in woods or take part in in processions through their communities. Some churches organise worship events in the form of bike rides.

Participants often encounter non-churchgoers and groups of Father’s Day revellers out to enjoy themselves with the help of alcohol. The spiritual and the worldly meet, but unfortunately, they rarely enter into dialogue.

Sustainability starts with the way these open-air services are organised. Do people bring their own plates and cups? Are efforts made to avoid using plastic, disposable products? Does the food always have to be meat-based? Who is responsible for disposing of litter?

Our sermon texts have something to say about this issue. After all, they are about Heaven on Earth.

1 Kings 8, 22-24, Verses from King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple.

Until now, God’s dwelling was very spartan and, to modern eyes, eco-friendly: a tabernacle. That was a large tent that would be set up in the midst of the majority of the priests and the people. Of course, plastic was unknown in the time of the Prophets and Judges, so we can safely assume the tabernacle was made from renewable materials. God dwelt in the open air, right in the midst of the people. When the temple is built in Jerusalem, God gets a house which means, like his people, he begins a settled life. The beautiful, generously proportioned prestige building enables Israel to start comparing itself with other major powers. But the construction also consumes resources (think of today’s airport construction projects). A whole army of people is needed, and a great deal of material. The cedars of Lebanon are sacrificed. The old conflict between those in favour of building the temple, and those opposed to it, is detectable in the words of King Solomon. Only one thing about the temple has proved enduring: the quarrels and disputes about it which continue to this day. Was the temple really necessary? Another consequence has become apparent: construction of the temple “outsources” God, removes God from the life of the people. God is found in the temple, rather than in the everyday and the ordinary. It is worth asking ourselves, what do we “outsource” from our lives?  What do we create special places for? Outsourcing is the new trend.

But God wants to live with us, among us. He makes this very clear in Christ’s incarnation, His human birth. God wants to be at the very centre of our lives. Another topic for the sermon could be the question whether we make good use of our sacred buildings, such as opening their doors to special projects or for dialogue and discussion.

Luke 24, 44-53 and Acts 1, 1-11, the traditional Ascension Day texts

The reading from Luke differs from the passage from Acts in that the latter mentions a new calling, new departures. In Acts, the disciples are called to go out into the world, whereas in the Gospel reading, the disciples go to the temple to pray (“they were continually in the temple blessing God”). But in fact, both readings tell us, in short, what are the foundations of our faith and our mission as human beings and as Christians.

The topic of the sermon could be “carrying on in the spirit of Jesus”, even though Jesus is in heaven, a place that is hidden to us. Trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, using our minds and imaginations to help build the Kingdom of God. As I was writing these sermon notes, the news came in of an American married couple who had set up a charitable campaign. They wanted to support children separated from their parents by the American president’s callous and inhuman refugee policies. The goal was to raise 1500 dollars to pay for a lawyer to assist one mother. Over a single weekend, this campaign has raised more than 20 million dollars, far exceeding expectations. We need stories like this one to give us courage. Good news needs to be told far more often. Christ’s Ascension marked the beginning of the life of the church, and his stories continue to be told to this day.

Eph 1, 15-23

Our Christian belief gives us a resource that is increasingly rare in these egoistic and narcissistic times: the threefold resource of faith, hope and love. This cannot be repeated too often. We need to proclaim it loud and clear to those who attend our services.

by Elke Wedler-Krüger, Germany, translated by Anja Hubel