When we hear Scripture read in worship, it is usually in carefully chosen chunks or discrete units. The Bible, however, is one large overriding picture/story of God’s action with his people, written down over many generations. It contains hugely complex overlapping images and concepts, like a tapestry of multiple interweaving strands. The overall effect has a rich and vibrant depth, as individual elements placed next to each other bring out a whole range of associations and meanings. So, as we read any one part of the Bible, it is important not to lose sight of the larger picture.
Weaving Scripture into a Tapestry
Several years ago Jane and I began composing dramatic readings with this larger tapestry in mind. We start with a section of Scripture and trace its images, metaphors, or even its content to other parts of Scripture. With New Testament readings, in particular, we ask questions about the context of the writing. What Old Testament scriptural references would the initial hearers of these words have brought to their hearing? What previously spoken words of Jesus might this text be echoing? After prayer and reflection, we weave these texts together in the hope that they illuminate one another and tell a story that is particular but also reflects God’s larger story. (See “The Fire, the Wind, the Water” in RW 63 as an example of a similar dramatic reading.)
Starting with the Ascension . . .
In the dramatic reading presented here, we started with the accounts by the evangelist Luke of Christ’s ascension, Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:1-11. Then we searched Scripture for related passages and also for answers to questions raised by the accounts. We speculated about the instructions that Jesus gave the apostles through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2). His most loyal followers seemed to misinterpret the “many convincing proofs” that Jesus performed following his resurrection as signs that God was about to “restore of the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). Why did the apostles not yet understand the true nature of the kingdom of God? What did they really need to hear to prepare them for what was to come?
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
In our reading, we suggest that the teachings found in the Farewell Discourses (John 14-17) may have been central themes in Jesus’ instruction just prior to his ascension. These texts were a warning about the trials and persecutions to come; but they also gave encouragement, pointing to the protection, strength, and power that would come through the Holy Spirit.
The first strands of Scriptures come from the Old Testament. References from the Psalms praising God’s greatness and power become the backdrop for Paul’s words of encouragement in Ephesians. The prophecy of Joel that God will “pour out [God’s] spirit on all flesh” is woven into Jesus’ promise that baptism with the Holy Spirit is imminent.
The Kingdom of God
When Acts 1:3 mentions Jesus speaking about the kingdom of God, we remember some of his parable teaching about the kingdom, especially those metaphors that touch on the hidden strength and perseverance that accompany membership in the kingdom of God.
Another strand comes from the first letter of Peter, in which the apostle counseled Christians who were in the midst of persecution to remain confident in Christ, all the while humbling themselves “under the mighty hand of God.” The overall message is strong: Jesus Christ is reigning in power; remember this as you face persecution.
In Luke 24, just prior to the ascension, Jesus himself is speaking about the larger picture that Scripture represents. He says, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. May God continue to open our minds to the rich and life-giving tapestry of his Word.
Note: The four voices in the dramatic reading are identified as A, B, C, and D. The passages the readings are based on are listed in parentheses.
Lifted Up to Glory and Power
C: The apostle Paul wrote to the saints at the church in Ephesus: (Eph. 1:1)
A: May God give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. (Eph. 1:17-19)
B: God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. (Ps. 47:8)
A: God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. (Eph. 1:20)
B: The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea,
majestic on high is the Lord! (Ps. 93:3-4)
A: Christ is seated far above all rulers and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. (Eph. 1:21)
B: Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. (Ps. 97:2)
A: And God has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:21)
A: The evangelist Luke wrote concerning the days of Christ after his resurrection:
C: In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2)
B: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
A: You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So with you; now is your time of pain; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:20-22)
B: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it first hated me. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. (John 15:18-19)
A: These things I have said to you while I am still with you. The Advocate, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:25-26)
D: Father in heaven, I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:11-12, 15, 17)
C: After 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. (Acts 1:1-3)
D: The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, which is the smallest of all the seeds. But when it has grown, it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. (Mark 4:30-32)
B: The kingdom of God is like leaven, which a person took and hid in three measures of flour. And as this person waited, it grew and it grew till all the flour was leavened. (Luke 13:21)
A: The kingdom of God is like a merchant that finds the great pearl and goes and exchanges all that he has for it. (Matt. 13:45-46)
C: On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)
B: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams
and your young men shall see visions.
I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain.
And Jerusalem shall be holy. (Joel 2:28-32)
C: 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.” (Acts 1:6-8)
D: All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. (John 16:1-2, 4, 12-13)
C: Then he led them out as far as Bethany and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 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 toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They 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.” And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11; Luke 24:52-53)
B: Several years later, the apostle Peter wrote to God’s elect strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. (1 Pet. 1:1)
D: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. (1 Pet. 4:12-14)
C: Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:6-9)
B: You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy and no one will take your joy from you.
A: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 16:20-22; 14:27)
D: And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 5:10-11).
Art by Steve Erspamer, from Clip Art for Year A (© 1992, Liturgy Training Publications, 1800 North Hermitage Avenue, Chicago IL 60622-1101, 1-800-933-1800). Used by permisssion.