May 21, 2020 Message from Pastor Alessandri

May 21, 2020 Message from Pastor Alessandri (pdf)

May 21, 2020

Christ is Risen! Alleluia
(He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!)

Today is the festival of the Ascension of our Lord. It is always the fortieth day of the Easter season and on a Thursday. It commemorates Christ’s ascension to heaven (Luke 24: 44-53; Acts 1: 1-11) It has been included in the church’s calendar since the fourth century. There are regions and denominations that honor this day with special worship services. Many of you may never have celebrated it in church unless it was celebrated on the Sunday after Ascension Thursday. Though many churches have the ascending Lord pictured in their sanctuaries. I’m going to stop there because Pastor Kaplan will offer more insight into this feast day in today’s devotional.

  Baptismal Anniversary

 Margaret “Maggie” Manspeaker

  Hannah Tice-Stouffer

 

 

Birthday

Millie Strange

 

 

 

 

CORONAVIRUS PRAYER FROM HARC* E-NEWSLETTER    *Hagerstown Area Religious Council

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRATITUDE AND GODSIGHTINGS
From Justin Lind-Ayres posted on Luther Seminary’s God Pause today)
“During the social distancing measures necessitated by COVID-19, my aunt and uncle’s sign company has sold a series of lawn signs called “signs of hope and gratitude.” The signs thank essential workers and offer words of community and empowerment. My favorite is the “hug signs” we purchased and placed in our neighbors’ yards that declare, “You’ve been hugged.” A sign of enduring blessing and love when physical hugs are not permitted. God is present in blessing.”

From today’s weekly message from the DE-MD Synod Bishop, William “Bill” Gohl:
The Church is not closed
The Church is not closed and I see signs of it throughout our synod! Pastor Hoda Zavandro and the folks at St. John (Hagerstown) have purchased a supply of tablets that they load with Sunday worship and other devotional resources to keep their sick and shut-in community connected to the worshipping community; Prince of Peace (Rosedale) is providing childcare for essential workers through their early childhood education center; Peoples’ Community (Baltimore) is doing a major water conservation project with the Chesapeake Bay Trust to alleviate the runoff from their well-used parking lot; and St. John (Sweet Air) continues its feeding ministry partnership with Amazing Grace (East Baltimore) and broke ground for a significant accessibility project last week! I am astounded by the tremendous feeding ministries happening across our synod. Thank you, one and all, for your ongoing witness!

I am grateful for each of you. I am grateful for my family and their continued good health. I am grateful to belong to a church community that is caring, thoughtful and mutually respectful. I am grateful for all that you are doing to contribute to the health and wellbeing our community and to uphold God’s mission outpost called Haven. I am grateful every time love rather than fear goes viral. May we find a way to unite rather than divide, in Jesus’ name I do pray.

God IS with us,
Pastor Linda M Alessandri

A PAUSE IN GOD’S WORD

Read:  Act 1: 1-11
[Luke writes:] 1In 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.”

Reflection: (Prepared today by Pastor David Kaplan)
Forty days after Easter, and life was about to change once more.  Yes, Jesus was truly alive; through sharing Scripture and breaking bread with them, letting them see and touch his wounds, “by many convincing proofs,” they were finally sure, or at least as sure as their wavering faith would allow.  And now, just when they were becoming more comfortable with his sudden appearances, he would appear no longer.  After forty days, that iconic biblical period of time – the Flood, Moses on the mountain, Jesus’ own fast before temptation – he was returning to the Father.

What did the Ascension of our Lord mean to those early disciples?  Before they could reflect, before they were able to put the pieces together, one thing was clear.  Ascension meant that Jesus was gone: while they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  He would no longer be physically present for their eyes to see or their hands to touch.  And like every loss, his departure would initially bring them grief and sorrow and sadness, just as they had experienced after his crucifixion.

But no, it wasn’t quite the same.  Then it had seemed so final – their hopes and dreams and purpose in life were all shattered.  Ascension grief was different.  Sure there was that pain-in-the-gut sense of loss, but Easter meant that disciples would no longer grieve “as those who have no hope.”  In their better moments during the days that immediately followed Ascension, they would recall his words before he left, 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.  Whatever that meant, it was a promise that he would still be with them in some way they couldn’t yet understand to equip them for a mission they couldn’t yet visualize.  But it was enough that he had promised – wasn’t he always true to his word?

So Ascension also meant waiting – waiting for that promise to be fulfilled even if those early followers didn’t know how or exactly when (how long was “not many days from now”?).  In fact, waiting was part of the command Jesus gave them before he left.  But not meaningless waiting – watching reruns of last year’s chariot races – this was waiting filled with preparation.  The remainder of Acts 1 describes how the disciples along with Mary and the other women and Jesus’ brothers continued to meet together in the upper room for fellowship, for prayer and to choose a successor to Judas so that their number would be complete.

Fast forward two millennia to this day, May 21, in the year of pandemic, zoom and new normalcy.  Forty shades of gray days after a subdued Easter, Ascension seems hardly more than an asterisk on the Church Year calendar.  Yet if we dare to ask the standard catechism question, what does this mean? (not just what it meant back then), we may be surprised to discover that this festival still speaks to us in ways that are not only relevant, but truly uplifting.

Even if we still can’t put all the pieces together, one thing is clear.  Ascension means that Jesus is not gone.  No, he’s not here physically for our eyes to see or our hands to touch, not even here at this moment sacramentally for our tongues to taste and our hearts to ingest; but no matter what our circumstances, he is still present with us as we read and hear his word, as we come to him in prayer, as we reach out to our neighbor in need.  Ascension means that his presence is no longer localized to a particular community at a particular time or place, but rather that he is with all God’s people of every time and every place.  As we sang in last Sunday’s opening hymn (ELW 389): Christ is alive! No longer bound to distant years in Palestine, but saving, healing here and now, and touching every place and time.

Ascension means we share the hope and promise.  In fact for us the main Ascension promise has already been fulfilled.  We know the Holy Spirit, who was poured out on us at our Baptism.  We know the power and the mission he gives us to be our Lord’s witnesses by our words and acts of love in Hagerstown, in Maryland, and in whatever end of the earth we find ourselves.  But we still have that puzzling promise in the last verse of this reading about Jesus coming.  Perhaps it’s a reminder to those disciples and to us that he will come again at the end to make all things whole and complete according to God’s purpose.  But could it also be a promise that Jesus will come to us and be with us in all situations of life – even the most difficult, even when it seems like he’s nowhere to be found?  Yes, that may still mean waiting in prayer, in separated fellowship, fulfilling tasks that he’s called us to do, until once more filled with the Spirit we can praise and glorify him together as risen and ascended Lord over all.  If at the moment, that sounds too good to be true, just remember it’s his promise. And isn’t he always true to his word?

Prayer (Alternate Prayer of the Day for Ascension, ELW, p. 35):  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.  Amen.

Music:
Pastor Kaplan’s suggestions:
A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing! ELW 393  (traditional Ascension hymn)                                                                                                             (organ instrumental) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHozhFqMfsQ
(congregational singing) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNs1-QeSTQI
Crown Him with Many Crowns, ELW 855
(traditional – Westminster Abbey)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kPkjghup8E
(contemporary)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuMh_ept-Js

“Hallelujah Chorus” (from Messiah) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PQYVbd1Gwg
While often sung at Christmas or Easter, this magnificent work is from Part III of Messiah and is most appropriate for Ascension.  DK