Sunday 24th May 2020

We gather for worship today in celebration of the Ascension of Christ. Just as this was a new experience to the disciples who witnessed these events so today our worship will bring us new experiences, in song.

Call to Worship (Psalm 68: 4)
Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
    lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds—
his name is the Lord—
    be exultant before him.

HYMN 558 Lord, the light of your love is shining (Shine, Jesus, Shine)

God of love,
light a flame of love in our hearts to you,
a flame of love to our families and friends,
a flame of love to our neighbours,
a flame of love to our enemies.

Son of the Mary,
light a flame of love in our hearts to all,
from the lowliest thing that lives,
to the Name that is highest of all.

God of life,
grant us your forgiveness.

We have been heedless in our thoughts,
cruel in our words,
shameful in our actions.
We are indifferent to a world made sad
by want and wastefulness;
we pass by on the other side
when we see our neighbour in need;
we wander from the way that leads to peace
in paths of our own pleasing.
God of life,
grant us your forgiveness.


God of the new day and God of love,
you created us and you have redeemed us.
As you scatter the mist
from the hills,
banish the deeds of darkness
from the sons and daughters of your light.
Help us to know and believe
that, as the children of your love,
we are free to begin again;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God and Jesus and Spirit of wholeness,
as Three and as One,
shield us and save us,
possess us and aid us,
clear our path,
go before our souls
each step of the stormy world.


The Lord’s Prayer


Acts 1: 6-14
The Ascension of Jesus
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But 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.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards 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.’

Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

John 17: 1-11
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

HYMN 437 He is exalted


Parting is such sweet sorrow

So says Juliet to Romeo in Act 2 of Shakespeare’s well known tragedy. However, in light of today’s Bible readings, we have to wonder if the disciples would have agreed with her. True, the contexts are different; she is bidding a good night to her lover, Romeo, whereas the disciples were in a very different, and much more complex, situation. Today is the nearest Sunday to the celebration of Ascension, and the disciples are once more being parted from their beloved Lord. They had already suffered his traumatic loss once before in the events that we now call Easter; yet their joy had been restored when the Risen Jesus had appeared to them not just once in the upper room but on a number of times and places. Each time he had been there to prepare them for the next stage of their faith journey. It hadn’t been long since he had been restored to them, and now he was being taken away once more. How must they have felt? What grief must they have known? How did they find the strength, and will, to go on?

Grief is something with which we are all acquainted. We will have experienced it through the death of a loved one, or the permanent breakdown of an important relationship. Today, though, we are also experiencing forms of loss that are new to us. We are experiencing loss as elements of our freedom are restricted; we fell hurt as elements of our culture are closed down; we experience estrangement as our social circles, our community, is prevented from meeting as we would prefer. Psychologists tell us that these are all recognised causes of grief, and more.

To return to the disciples, how did they cope in their grief? The answer lies, in part, in their faith heritage. To us the events of the Ascension are strange, but to the disciples they would have resonated with familiar stories. They would have been immediately drawn to the stories of the prophet Elijah; today we tend to think of him only in reference to either his encounter with the still, small, voice of God, or with his fatal encounter on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal. The disciples would also have been drawn to the story of the ascension, the rapture, of Elijah. In this story (to be found in II Kings) he is swept up into the presence of God rather than allowed to face natural death and decay. The disciples would have recognised not only this, but a number of other stories alongside, it that would have given them hope. They would have had hope that this parting was not the end, but the beginning of something new.

Moses spent forty days on the mountain; Elijah spent forty days on Mount Horeb; Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness; the disciples were prepared for forty days by the Risen Jesus. The disciples would have seen this pattern of preparation and growth. Moses and Elijah prepared disciples (Joshua and Elisha) to take on their ministry, and now Jesus had done the same. But the parallels do not end there; Joshua and Elisha also ‘inherited’ something of their former teacher. Importantly for the disciples, Elisha gained a double portion of the Spirit that had empowered Elijah; this enabled him to serve and do great things for God. Knowing these stories, the disciples would have been encouraged to view their position as similar; they would have been getting ready to move on with their mission.

We turn to ourselves. In our grieving for what, and who, we have lost during this pandemic what may we do to begin to look forward? Perhaps we can take our lead from the disciples, and look to this as a time when we can prepare ourselves to serve. We can ready ourselves to reach out to our community. We can become bearers of a message of grace and hope that strengthens others in difficult times. We can, ultimately, take this time to prepare ourselves for mission. And we begin, as did the disciples, in prayer.


Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray for the Church,
the world, and one another.

For the Church we pray, the bright lamp of faith,
her ministers and people, and this parish.
May the King of angels protect her,
keep her, and save her.

For the world we pray, the creation of God,
its land and sea, its peace and prosperity.
May the Christ move through all the earth,
blessing it.

For those who are ill we pray,
and for those who suffer.
May the Good Shepherd
who knows and loves his sheep
make them whole and well, active and content.

For those who work we pray,
and for all who weave
the patterns of this world’s life.
May the King of grace
give to their labour
growth and substance,
until the day of gladness come.

For those we love, and for ourselves we pray.
May the guarding of God be theirs and ours,
until together we come
to the High King’s house in heaven,
in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit Holy.

God of surprises,
in every age you have called men and women
from security to danger,
from comfort to hardship,
from silence to speaking-out:
we honour you and we honour them.

We remember with gratitude and wonder
the impetuous fisherman,
the despised tax-collector,
the zealous persecutor,
and all the other friends
and witnesses of Christ,
who lived out what they heard and saw
and wrote for us the story of his life.

We remember with gratitude and wonder
those courageous souls
who first brought the Gospel to our shores,
and braved wild northern seas,
defied rocks and skerries,
crossed moorland and mountain,
to offer Christ to our ancient peoples.

We remember with gratitude and wonder
holy men and women of later days,
who made Christ’s presence bright
in word, and water, wine and bread;
and lit a flame of glory to his name
in places which became,
through praise and prayer,
beacons of hope and sanctuaries of his grace.

We remember with gratitude and affection
those who first led us to you,
parents, teachers, ministers,
men and women who worshipped with us;
and those we once loved here on earth.

We celebrate their faith-filled lives,
and pray that they may be
bright flames before us,
guiding stars above us,
smooth paths below us,
a sure defence behind us,
until we reach our home,
the court of Christ, the peace of heaven.

HYMN 558 Lord, I lift your name on high

The guarding of the God of life be on you,
the guarding of the loving Christ be on you,
the guarding of the Holy Spirit be on you,
every day and night,
to aid you and enfold you,
each day, each night.

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Prayers are based on those in the Church of Scotland Book of Common Order – Third Ed. (2005) – ©Panel on Worship of the Church of Scotland 1994