Lectionary Commentaries for May 26, 2022
Ascension of Our Lord

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 24:44-53

Jennifer T. Kaalund

Electronic devices die, or at least that is how we describe what happens when their batteries have no power.1

We connect them to chargers for a period of time in order for them to be able to function again. Charging is an ongoing process. However, many of us may not know that there is an optimum period of time that a device should charge in order to maximize the battery’s life expectancy. For a laptop, it is 24 hours and for most smart phones it is a minimum of 3 hours. You cannot simply pull your device from the box and start to use it. If you get a little eager and use it before it has been fully charged, you are negatively impacting it future ability to perform. In other words, you will shorten the life expectancy of your battery if you do not allow the initial charge to be optimal. I think this analogy may be instructive for understanding the impact of Jesus’ ascension on the disciples.

Remembering: Whose report will you believe?

Isaiah 53:1 states: “Who has believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” These questions are posed in the context of the description of the suffering servant. These questions seem pertinent for Luke 24. At the beginning of Luke 24, there is an empty tomb.

Two men in dazzling clothes ask the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (24:5). The women, Joanna, Mary, Mary Magdalene return to the disciples to tell them what they witnessed, but the disciples did not believe them. They did not believe the report of the women. Their eyes were not yet open to the truth of the resurrection.

The women’s witness is associated with an act of remembering. Though remembering is often associated with death, it is at the same time a life-affirming action. To be remembered enables life to be continued in a way. Funerals are replete with remembrances. It is as though we have to look back in order to move ahead. I think it is significant that the gospel writer states: “Then they remembered his words.” After remembering what Jesus had taught them, the women at the tomb realized that he, indeed was not dead.

Even after his death, Jesus continues to teach his disciples. On the way to Emmaus, Peter and Cleopas encounter the risen Christ. After Jesus blesses and breaks the bread “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished.” (23:31). When Jesus appears to them again, he reminds them of the words that he spoke “while I was still with you.” They are instructed to remember. Jesus’ teaching  “opens their minds to understand the scriptures.” Remembering can open our eyes and minds. This was all done in preparation for the opening of their hearts in order to receive the Holy Spirit.

Jesus takes the disciples out of Jerusalem to bless them. They are away from the city when Jesus is carried up into the heavens. However, their return to Jerusalem brings this gospel full circle. Jerusalem is a central character in Luke-Acts. In Luke 2:22 Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem “to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord).” In the temple they encountered a man named Simeon who took baby Jesus “in his arms and praised God, saying “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Here, at the end of Luke, the disciples return to Jerusalem “with great joy” and they, too, go into the temple and praise God for their eyes have seen our salvation.

A season of preparation

Jesus instructs the disciples to stay in the city. Reading Jesus’ instruction to the disciples through our own experiences of sheltering in place sheds new light on the necessity of waiting. Now Jesus has been carried up into the heavens and the disciples are waiting “until you have been clothed with power from on high.” There is no indication in the text that they knew how long they would have to wait. It seems that the Holy Spirit could have descended on them at the same moment that Jesus was leaving, but instead they are sent back to Jerusalem to wait.

Waiting is rarely easy and it can be even more difficult to endure when you do not know when the end will be. The beginning of Acts provides a glimpse into what was happening. The writer describes the group as together and unified, 120 people who spent their time praying and waiting. This time of preparation equipped the disciples to go out and spread the gospel, enabling the church to grow.

While they were waiting, they questioned when would Israel be redeemed? And just as suddenly as Jesus leaves, the Spirit descends. The disciples may not have experienced this waiting time as a time of preparation. Perhaps this is only apparent in hindsight. Yet, this season of waiting seemed necessary. Much like we must wait to fully charge our devices, the disciples likewise had to wait to be clothed with power. If their initial “charge” had not been full, they would not have been able to operate at their optimal levels.

Eastertide is a journey to Pentecost. Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, he ascends into heaven. During this season we reflect upon his life, death, and resurrection. We remember that though he has gone to heaven, he does not leave us alone. Our eyes, minds, and hearts are once again opened in order to receive the Holy Spirit, our comforter and our guide.

There is no power without a season of preparation, without a period of waiting. May we be empowered to do the work of the Lord as we are reminded, that this promised gift of God’s presence will always be worth the wait.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on May 21, 2020.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 1:1-11

Jerusha Matsen Neal

As I write this commentary, Ascension Day is still two months away, and bombs are falling in Ukraine. I pray for peace but doubt a ceasefire is near. I would be thankful to be wrong. Call it Lenten circumspection or pandemic wariness. Call it weariness of a world in perpetual turmoil or lack of faith.  By any name, Eastertide seems distant. Ascension seems more distant still.  

But Jesus’ ascension in Acts is no text of glory. It is a text that stands with those in countries far from home, those whose witness has been costly, and those who do not see “convincing proofs” (verse 3) of resurrection. It is, in fact, a passage about a community of faith that relinquishes the “proof” of Christ’s risen body for the “promise” of a Spirit (verses 4-5) coming. One might question the wisdom of such a trade. I would welcome “convincing proofs” these days. Acts, however, is clear that proofs are not the point. Jesus’ body is neither physical evidence nor “phantasm.”1 Acts does not allow Jesus’ body to be conscripted by nationalism or commodified for gain. It is not dissected for its DNA. In its ascension, Jesus’ body resists human control. And in its place, his disciples are called to the work of waiting for a promise fulfilled. Promises require trust; they gain efficacy through relationship. And this is where Acts begins: in empty-handed dependence.  

The promise the disciples are given is a promise of Spirit-generated power, but this is power of a very particular sort. “This power will have a purpose,” Matthew Skinner writes, “to make these ordinary people into Jesus’ witnesses across the Roman world.”2 Marvin McMickle’s memorable definition of a witness is striking in its simplicity and depth: a witness sees something, says something, and suffers something.3 The rest of Acts teases out the relation of the Spirit to each of these categories. Very little in Acts is as it seems. Men become blind to gain spiritual sight (9:8-9). Jailers are captives and prisoners free (Acts 16:27-30). Spirit-filled preachers are sometimes celebrated (2:41) and other times stoned (7:55-60). The power promised is not the power of persuasion—or even protection. It is the power of discernment and courage. It is a power that creates a new community and upends the expectations of a militarized, fearful world.  

I read tonight of churches in Budapest standing vigil at train stations to welcome arriving refugees. In Warsaw, sanctuaries have been filled with mattresses to serve as shelters. In western Ukraine, pastors like Rev. Volodymyr Prokip are providing food and temporary shelter to those headed out of the country. “God is with those who are crying,” he says.4 Communities are being formed, not by bombs that fall from the sky, but by those praying in upper rooms and basement halls who witness to a different way. 

That witness has a cost. 

On the Sunday known as “Forgiveness Sunday,” Father Ioann Burdin, a Russian Orthodox priest, stood in Resurrection Church in Russia’s western Kostroma region and denounced the war that his country had begun. He was later arrested for “discrediting Russian armed forces.”5

Ascension Day is full of glorious theological truths. It is, in the words of Malcom Guites’s beautiful Ascension sonnet, when “earth became a part of Heaven’s story.”6 But Acts doesn’t yet know these wonders. Ascension Day, for Acts’s disciples, looks more like trust in the face of uncertainty. It looks more like prayerful commitment and costly witness. It looks a lot like today.


  1. Willie Jennings, Acts (Louisville: WJK Press, 2017), 15.
  2. Matthew Skinner, Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel: Encountering the Divine in the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015), 5.
  3. Marvin McMickle, Be My Witness: The Great Commission for Preachers (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2016), 62.
  4. Urs Schweizer and Sam Hodges, “United Methodists in and near Ukraine help refugees,” UM News, March 3, 2022, https://www.umnews.org/en/news/united-methodists-in-and-near-ukraine-help-refugees.
  5.  Isabel Van Brugen, “Russian Priest Arrested for Delivering Sermon Against Ukraine War,” Newsweek, March 7, 2022, https://www.newsweek.com/russian-priest-arrested-delivering-sermon-anti-war-against-ukraine-1685436.
  6. Malcolm Guite, “Ascension Day,” June 2, 2011, https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/ascension-day-sonnet/.


Commentary on Psalm 47

J. Clinton McCann, Jr.

Psalm 47 played a major role in the interpretation of the Psalms in the 20th century. It was the centerpiece of Sigmund Mowinckel’s claim that the enthronement of God was enacted liturgically in ancient Israel/Judah at the beginning of each year. At the center of Psalm 47 is verse 5, which is surrounded by two sets of invitations to praise and accompanying reasons for praise (verses 1-4, 6-9). Verse 5 certainly seems to describe a liturgical event, and Mowinckel concluded that this event was “the royal entry of Yahweh [into the temple], at which he himself is present, symbolized by his holy ‘ark.’”1 What God has “gone up” (verse 5) to is the royal throne (verse 8). Thus, God has been re-enthroned for the coming year.

Although Mowinckel’s description of an annual enthronement festival was very influential, there is no solid evidence for it. It is more likely that God’s sovereignty was celebrated regularly in Israelite/Judean worship, not just once a year. In any case, it is helpful to view Psalm 47 as an enthronement psalm (see also Psalms 29, 93, 95-99). Such a categorization invites us to contemplate what it means to affirm that God is sovereign.

The sovereignty of God

There is no doubt that kingship or sovereignty represents the central concept of Psalm 47. The first set of reasons for praise features the work “king” in verse 2, and the word occurs three more times in the second set of reasons for praise (verses 6, 7, 8). The title “Most High” (verse 2) reinforces the proclamation of God’s sovereignty; and not coincidentally, the Hebrew root underlying this title also occurs in the central verse 5 (“gone up”) and again in verse 9 as the final word of the psalm (“exalted”), thus linking both verses 1-4 and 6-9 to the central verse 5.  Furthermore, the adjective “great” in verse 2 is used elsewhere in the context of the affirmation of divine sovereignty (see Psalm 95:3; 96:4; 99:2); and the trumpet elsewhere announces an enthronement event, human (1 Kings 1:34, 39) or divine (Psalm 98:6).

God is sovereign and we are not!

The concept of kingship is looked upon with suspicion these days, due in part to the fact that it is masculine. But even the gender-neutral word “sovereignty” is problematic, because it inevitably connotes hierarchy. There are legitimate concerns about gender-specificity and hierarchy; however, there may be at least one positive aspect to the proclamation that God is sovereign over “all the earth” (verses 2, 7). The potentially positive dimension of this affirmation derives from viewing it as a polemic—in this case, not a polemic against other claims for divinity, as is sometimes the case in the Old Testament (see Psalm 97:7-9), but rather as a polemic against us human beings!

The current generation of humankind rather routinely views ourselves as “masters of the universe.” When we follow this logic, we feel entitled to do whatever it may be within our power to do, with little or no regard for what our actions might mean for “all the earth” (verses 2, 7).  The ecological consequences alone are proving to be disastrous, to the point that some scientists are seriously questioning whether humankind will survive past the end of the century.  

In a context like this, it might be helpful to hear that “God is the king of all the earth” (verse 7)—in short, God is sovereign, and we are not!

Specificity and universality

As every commentator notes, Psalm 47 juxtaposes specificity and universality, raising the question: Does God exercise divine power exclusively for the benefit of Israel or expansively for the benefit of humankind?  Given the reasons for praise in verses 2-4, it would seem that God favors Israel very specifically, subduing other “peoples” and “nations” and favoring God’s people(s) as God’s own.

So, which is it?  Perhaps Psalm 47 alone is insufficient to answer this question; but in concert with an array of biblical texts throughout the canon, it certainly appears that God has invested Godself in the well-being of all humanity. As James L. Mays says of Psalm 47: “One way to describe the logic of the hymn is this: The LORD has made a place for his people among the nations so that the nations may be included among his people.”2

The mention of Abraham in verse 9 is especially pertinent. In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham and his descendants are promised a blessing; but they are also commissioned to be a blessing to nothing short of “all the families of the earth” (verse 3). This trajectory is also evident in a pivotal text like Isaiah 2:2-4, which also brings together specificity and universality. The specific place, Jerusalem, is to be the meeting place for “all the nations” (verse 2).  Everyone will have access to and benefit from God’s “instruction” (verse 3; Hebrew torah), and the result will be that God “will establish justice among the nations” (verse 4; my translation). As always, biblically speaking, God’s justice means that everyone will be provided for. The implements of war are converted into farm tools; war is abolished, and everyone will thus be fed (2:4; see Psalm 46:9, which should be read in conversation with Psalm 47, and see also Isaiah 19:23-25; 25:6-10a). In short, Psalm 47 fits into a trajectory that D. Preman Niles describes like this: “The people of God in the midst of all God’s peoples.3

To use Psalm 47 to celebrate The Ascension of Our Lord is for us Christians to affirm that this trajectory continues in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—that is, the Christ event confirms that God lovingly claims “all the earth” and all the world’s peoples as God’s own.


  1. Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 2 vols., trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas (Nashville:  Abingdon, 1962), 1:171.
  2.  James L. Mays, Psalms (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 186.
  3. D. Preman Niles, “Toward the Fullness of Life: Intercontextual Relationship in Mission,” International Review of Mission 91/363 (October 2002):475.

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 1:15-23

Working Preacher

Commentary forthcoming on this passage.