Can I Get a Witness?
Can I Get a Witness?
It is Ascension Sunday. The day we celebrate when Jesus left the diciples and ascended to sit at the right hand of God. Though it is only afforded a few verses in Luke’s gospel, the ascension provides a powerful image. We celebrate the ascension through worship, joy and praise and in all of this we provide a witness.
My friend Reuben is the minister at Nassagewaya Presbyterian Church. He’s an all-round great guy who is involved in the camping ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He is also very musical. This week he recorded a song titled Akanamandla in three parts. I hope you enjoy singing along with him.
Parents if you are looking for fun Christian resources for your kids, many of the individuals who are involved with the camping ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Canada have create a resource called Chapodcast.
What do The Rolling Stones, the Temptations, Dusty Springfield, and Marvin Gaye (with the Supremes singing back-up vocals) all have in common? At some point over the span of a year, they all recorded “Can I Get A Witness?” – a gospel-style hit that got its start in 1963. While the song didn’t have remarkable lyrics, and the melody only consists of about three notes, it put Marvin Gaye on the Billboard 100 top songs list. The hook that inspired such popularity was the refrain that sounded like a revival preacher’s chant, repeated over and over: “Can I get a witness?” In other words, can anybody out there affirm that I’m telling the truth? Are you with me here? Can I get an Amen? Will you say it with me, over and over? Can I get a witness? (Jo Anne Taylor)
Our closing passage from Luke’s gospel sets us up to be witnesses to what God has done through Jesus Christ. From his teaching, to his healing and ultimately to his death on the cross for the sake of all creation. Jesus makes plain all that is found in scripture for the disciples, so that they might understand. He prepares them for the coming of the Holy Spirit, “…stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
The ascension of Jesus provides us with a wonderful visual of Jesus rising up. The text reads Jesus withdrew and was carried up into heaven. Implying that perhaps the angels who appeared at the beginning of Luke’s gospel return again to carry Jesus up to heaven. It also provides the view that heaven is above us, a realm that exists in the clouds or the stars beyond. Our understanding of science might tell us differently. Prof Mark Tranvik writes, “Heaven is not so much a “place” but rather the human expression for where God resides.” (Mark Tranvik) That’s an important consideration to bear in mind, the fact that our redeemer has been reunited with the aspect of the Trinity which we call creator is important. A task was completed and Jesus has ascended.
It leads me to the question; how do we ascend from our present situation? We could frame this in light of Covid-19 and the very present reality we are engaged in. How do we ascend a situation that sees parents working from home and assisting their children with homework? How do we return to normal and reopen the economy, when children are still at home with schools now closed until September, when we are leery of day camps because Covid-19 is still out there? This is only one aspect of our current situation that we are trying to determine how to ascend from.
Perhaps for you it is a job you dislike. Perhaps you’ve been passed over for promotion and you wonder why? You’d like something different or better for yourself, how do you ascend from that situation?
Maybe it is a relationship that is toxic or abusive. You are looking for escape, but Covid-19 has you self-isolating in a situation that is damaging to you mentally, physically and spiritually. How do you ascend from that situation?
Or is it your health? Many of us experience chronic and crippling pain. Physical, mental, spiritual, our health can suffer immensely in the best of times. But when we are afraid to access the hospital because of Covid-19 or when a professional we need is unavailable to us due to social distancing, what do we do? How do we ascend to better health during this time?
When we think about God, we think of God as being all powerful, sovereign and majestic. We use words like: loving, generous, glorious, almighty, eternal, king, lord, powerful, radiant, exalted, faithful, wise, perfect, holy, good, just to describe God. These are all good, powerful, comforting attributes. However, the God we praise is three in one. The God we praise has been betrayed, mocked, rejected. The God we praise has grieved, felt abandoned and been killed. And Jesus Christ ascended.
We might think that God can take the easy way out, being all-powerful and all, and ascend or escape any situation that isn’t comfortable. Except that God didn’t do that. God endured the humiliation of death on the cross. The disciples were witnessing to that and much more and are called to share that news with the world. Just as we are.
How do we ascend our present situations? We trust in the one who provides, knowing that God won’t abandon us or leave us orphaned. We take a cue from the disciples, who when Jesus ascended to heaven devoted themselves to God through worship, a joyful presence and praise.
And so, we worship. Worship, has looked a bit different these days, at least when we consider it from the perspective of what we once did. We no longer gather in the sanctuary for corporate prayer, listening to the word, singing hymns of praise and listening to the sermon. Instead we gather in our homes, with our families, and we do something similar. This sermon is pre-recorded and uploaded to the Internet, made available for everyone. We accomplish the same task, it looks and feels different, we miss the communal aspect of our time together. Still there are other ways that we can worship, how we care for one another and the planet. Time spent with scripture and in prayer.
Be joyful! Covid-19 might be brining out anxiety due to certain situations and circumstances, but around us are signs of life. We must, because our present time doesn’t give us much choice, find new ways of doing old things. New ways of being present with one another and living in joyful harmony with our family, friends and creation. We can find joy in these moments, they can lift us up, renew us and set us forward on a path of praise.
And we praise God on all occasions and in all manner of things. Even the simple things like breaking bread with our families. On Friday evenings a friend of mine does a big social media cooking class with his neighbours. One neighbour sends out the grocery list for the meal earlier in the week and on Friday night they are the chef and they teach everyone how to make their favourite meal. Then they sign off, sit down with their families and enjoy it. In Ecclesiastes we read, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). Praise for God occurs in many ways, not just during worship on Sunday mornings. Keep your love for God central in your heart and all that you do will be an act of praise.
In all this we act as witnesses. We share the story, we do the work. Where we can, we help those who need to ascend out of their situations, we lend a hand. And then together, as a people we ascend as we make the creation God called good a better place for all. Amen.
For those who are interested, this is what the other side of the camera looks like.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.