May 18, 2020
I come with joy, a child of God,
forgiven, loved, and free,
the life of Jesus to recall
in love laid down for me,
in love laid down for me.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #482]
The readings for Thursday, May 21, 2020, the Ascension of Our Lord, are as follows:
Also, the readings for Sunday, May 24, 2020, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, are as follows:
This coming Thursday the church celebrates the Ascension of Our Lord. The readings are the same every year. However, in my lifetime, Ascension has never happened in the midst of a pandemic. Although it may be a little late to plan a worship service, it would be worth exploring an opportunity to present and preach this festival in a new and different way.
Those of you that pay close attention to these things may recall that every Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, the Gospel text is taken from the 10th  Chapter of John.
In a similar way, every Seventh Sunday of Easter, the Gospel text is taken from John 17. This final Sunday of the Easter Season is the Sunday before Pentecost Sunday and the coming of the Holy Spirit. This Gospel text from John 17 has echoes of departure, leave-taking, of goodbye.
John 17 is known as the "high priestly prayer" of Jesus. It records the last words of Jesus with his disciples before his crucifixion and serves to sum up the meaning and intent of Jesus' work.
This prayer comes on the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested. But you'll notice that he prays not for himself but for his disciples! That is the most amazing point of this prayer.
He is solely praying for them, for their protection, for their sanctification and for their unity. And in this prayer he is not focusing on what is, but what will be through his own death and resurrection. The disciples are not to be taken "out of the world".  Rather, they are to enter into it, be engaged in it, come up against the very evil of it.
T he Ephesians reading for Ascension Day also focuses on prayer. There are four verses that attracted my attention. The Apostle Paul writes:
"I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power." [Ephesians 1:16-19] 
The similarity between these two readings calls to mind a story I read once about an elderly man who lived in Jerusalem all his life. He was a devout Orthodox Jew. Every day, since his Bar Mitzvah many years ago, he went to the Wailing Wall to pray. He did this for eighty-seven years.
On his 100 th birthday, he was interviewed by journalists from many newspapers. They asked him about his daily prayers at the Wailing Wall. "For what were you praying all these years?"
The old man replied, "I've always prayed for the same two things. I've prayed for peace, both here in the Holy Land, and around the world. And I've also prayed that all the races and religions of the world may treat each other with love and respect."
After a brief, reverent silence, a reporter asked, "And how did you feel making this same prayer day after day at the Wailing Wall?"
The old man thought a bit and said, "Sometimes I felt like I was talking to a brick wall."
I was also reminded of this story Sunday morning because in my devotional book, I read a prayer that was written more than 50 years ago, a Litany of Reconciliation . I am closing with that litany at the end of today's column. I was struck by the fact that many of the concerns raised in that prayer are the same as those we pray for today. Not much has changed.
Over the centuries, and to our own day, God keeps asking humanity to practice peace, social justice, and mercy, to regard each other with love and respect. More often than not, the result from us is disappointing. If all depended on us, on how well we pray, on how well we have lived as God's people, then I'm sure God must frequently say something like this in regard to us: "Sometimes I felt like I was talking to a brick wall."
One of my favorite quotes is from the famed Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, who grounded his theology in the practice of prayer. He is quoted as saying: "To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world."
Concern for the well-being of others lies at the very heart of our Christian faith. It is what we mean when we declare in our baptismal promises to "care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace."
May we not cease to give thanks for each other, and remember each other in our prayers.
Among the many concerns of this country, besides COVID-19, is the repeated offense of racism and racial injustice. In the last four months there have been two needless shootings of unarmed black victims.
My colleague, Bishop Kevin Strickland of the Southeastern Synod, ELCA, invites you to join him, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, and several other speakers on Thursday, May 21st 7-8:30pm EDT for a conversation around "Becoming the body of Christ where all bodies are valued: A conversation around the ELCA's resolution to condemn White Supremacy." 
This webinar is a response to the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Brewster, Georgia, which is in the Southeastern Synod. At the 2019 Churchwide Assembly, a resolution was adopted which condemns White Supremacy and Racist Rhetoric . This webinar will hopefully equip people to speak boldly about the equal dignity of all persons in the eyes of God.
Click here to register for the Webinar.
My electronic meeting schedule this week is as follows:
Monday :        Staff meeting.
Assembly Planning Committee.
ELCA Youth Gathering Update.
Tuesday :        Northeastern Ohio Synod Conference Deans.
Wednesday:   Richland-Ashland, Southern Conference Rostered Ministers.
Thursday:        Congregational Resource Team.
Conference of Bishops Weekly Check-in.
Webinar: Becoming the Body of Christ.
Saturday:         St. John's Canal Fulton Congregational Council.
In case you didn't see this announcement in the weekly e-news, we of the Northeastern Ohio Synod Pastoral Team are pleased and excited to announce that we will provide a complete online worship service (Service of the Word) for 
Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020. This is our way of expressing appreciation for all the hard work the rostered ministers and worship leaders of our congregations have done during this time of pandemic, and a way of giving you the option of a Sunday "off." It is our goal to make it available for download by next Tuesday, May 26.
In addition, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton will be providing a sermon in video and written format that may be used by congregations in your local online worship or devotional ministry. It is scheduled to be available in time for Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020. It will be based on texts that make it "transferrable" to other Sundays close to that date if that works better in local planning. This is a way for Bishop Eaton to remind us that "We are Church Together." Watch our weekly updates for when it becomes available.
I made reference to our closing prayer earlier in this column. It is called the
Litany of Reconciliation, written by Canon Joseph Poole in 1958. According to the introduction on the Coventry Cathedral (UK) website, it is prayed at noon each day at the Cathedral.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class
Father, forgive.
The covetous desires of men and nations to possess what is not their own,
Father, forgive.
The greed which exploits the labors of men, and lays waste the earth,
Father, forgive.
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Father, forgive.
Our indifference to the plight of the homeless and the refugee,
Father, forgive.
The lust which uses for ignoble ends the bodies of men and women,
Father, forgive.
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Father, forgive.
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
+Bishop Abraham Allende