Home Service for Sunday 21st May 2023

Sunday after Ascension

Prayers of Approach

Lord Jesus, by your ascension you left our world, but you did not abandon us. You promised the Spirit – who comes to us and makes a home within us, who reminds us of you, who guides and protects us and surrounds us with God’s love. Help us to be aware of your presence today.

Almighty God, we watch and wait, we come to share, to know, to learn. Almighty God, we look and see and fail to see. Almighty God, we shield our eyes – dare we see? Almighty God, you were, you are, you will be, forever and eternity. Amen.

Holy God, above and beyond, and yet within us – how can we not adore you? Holy God, ready to receive us, to embrace us and enfold us – how can we not adore you? Holy God, we do not always understand you, your being, your power, your love, your guidance, and yet something within us melds with you, our belief is there, our faith is there, because of what we feel and know and do understand of you.

Our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven to the confusion of the disciples, yet you did not leave them, do not leave us, but are forever within us, before us and behind us. You are forever urging us on to see the bigger picture, the wider vision, a greater vista.

Holy God, above and beyond and yet within us – how can we not adore you? Amen.

Hymn Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it (R&S 268)

Readings: Acts 1:1-14

Luke 24:44-53


Luke’s Gospel closes as it began: in the Temple. The dutiful service of Zechariah and Elizabeth, coupled with the angel’s promise, mark a period of waiting for the fulfilment of God’s purpose. In the closing passage, the disciples continually bless God as they wait for the fulfilment of Jesus’ words, the coming of the ‘promise of God’.

The book of Acts begins where the Gospel ends but it is only this passage which tells of a 40-day span of teaching and nurture by the risen Jesus after Easter. If not for this we might assume that the account of the Ascension in Luke 24:50-53 described an event on Easter evening. These twin accounts of the Ascension, ending Luke’s first volume and beginning his second, show how important this event is to Luke.

Hymn Majesty, worship his majesty (MP 454)


Many of us will have recently enjoyed the celebrations of King Charles’ coronation. One or two may even have travelled to London to stand in the pouring rain along the route of the coronation procession or to wait for the new king and queen’s appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Most of us though probably contented ourselves with watching it on television and going to more local celebrations such as community screenings, coffee mornings, lunches or afternoon teas, possibly with quizzes, sing-songs or other entertainment. And except for those republicans or anti-monarchists among us it will have been a time of joy, excitement and expectation as we begin a new era in the life of our nation.

Things were very different for Jesus’ ascension however. Although most of our Ascension Day hymns have a heavenly focus, bursting with triumphant delight at Jesus’ elevation to God’s right hand, hailing him as exalted Messiah or heavenly High Priest or homecoming Son, we hear none of that in these passages. The most significant thing about Luke’s accounts of the Ascension is their earthly focus. The Ascension is a moment of pastoral crisis. Jesus has gone – what are his shaken, unreliable followers to do now? We overhear the departing Jesus trying to prepare them for life without his bodily presence, twice counselling patient waiting until the pouring out of the promised Spirit of God. They are to continue with faith, trust and patience and God’s Spirit will assuredly come to them.

It could be argued that this pragmatic, pastoral focus does not end with the Ascension. The Ascension was something the disciples would have had difficulty explaining to those who had not seen it with their own eyes and even more problematical – how could they witness to God’s presence without Jesus standing there with them? It could be said that the whole of the rest of the Book of Acts is a deliberate pastoral response to this problem – a long, encouraging demonstration that the absent Lord is, in fact, actively present with his people, by his Spirit, come what may.

Seeing God around us is not easy. Was it any easier for Jesus’ disciples who had had the opportunity to talk with Jesus, to share a meal with him, to see him ‘at work’ and to listen to his words? Jesus had tried to prepare them for this and in the last few days of his presence on earth had explained the scriptures to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and to the rest of the disciples and, ‘opened their minds to understand the scriptures’ (Luke 24:45). They were also left with promises, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the assurance that he would return.

Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene in the garden, ‘don’t hold on to me… I am going to my Father’ are confirmed by the two ‘men in white’ who ask, ‘why are you looking towards heaven?’ (Acts 1:14) with the implication ‘he’s gone!’ but are then tempered with, ‘This Jesus who has been taken from you… will return in the same way…’ And as he went he blessed them. In the meantime they had to get on with the task they had been given, spread the Gospel and build the community of God. A mission for us today!

Hymn God is gone up on high (R&S 253)

Prayers of intercession Let us pray for the world to which Jesus called us to go, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Risen and ascended Christ in whom the scriptures are fulfilled, you called your disciples to be your witnesses in all the world. Help us to declare the good news of your love to our generation, proclaiming repentance and your gift of forgiveness. Fill us and all your Church with your Holy Spirit and make us worthy to stand before you in your heavenly kingdom. Equip us to work in your service, and build up your body on earth.

Amid the conflicts of the present age, the injustice of war, and individual acts of terror, help us to live your peace. Grant us the will to use the gifts we have, as prophets or pastors or teachers, or in any way you call us, and announce your coming kingdom, as we glorify your name. Equip us to work in your service, and build up your body on earth.

May the people among whom we live grow in the knowledge of you. Bless, we pray, those who are sick or distressed, and each one who mourns. Today we remember especially… Grant them your comfort and hope, and strengthen us to serve them Equip us to work in your service, and build up your body on earth.

Lead us in humility, gentleness and patience as we lift our eyes to you, O Christ. Help us to be forbearing with one another, and to speak the truth in love. So may we glorify your name and come at last to your heavenly kingdom, where the faithful disciples of every age will gather at your throne. Equip us to work in your service, and build up your body on earth. Hear the prayers that we offer and guide each footstep as we follow you. Amen.

Hymn At the name of Jesus (R&S 261)


Send us out, O Lord, waiting expectantly for your Spirit, looking for signs of your presence with us, looking for signs of your work in action. Support us, strengthen us, establish us, now and in all the weeks to come, that we may show your glory, and know your blessing and peace. Amen.

Prayers and other material © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.

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