Friday, May 27, 2011


After the Day of Resurrection, Jesus appeared to many of his disciples during the following 40 days. Such accounts, while missing from the original ending of the Gospel of Mark, are cited in the other three gospels. In the last chapter of the Gospel of Luke and the first chapter of the Acts, on the 40th day after his resurrection, he came again to the Apostles and led them out to the Mount of Olives where he instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Then, as they were watching, he ascended into clouds. As they continued to watch, two angels appeared and declared to them that, just as he ascended, Jesus would return in glory.

According to Augustine of Hippo, one of the early church fathers, the Feast of Ascension originated with the Apostles. John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa, contemporaries of Augustine, refer to it as being one of the oldest feasts practiced by the Church, possibly going back as far AD 68. There is no written evidence, however, of the Church honoring Ascension Day until Augustine's time in the fourth century. There are many indications that the Day of Ascension was one of the most important feasts of celebration, only surpassed by Easter, Christmas, and The Epiphany.

Today, as an Ecumenical feast, Ascension Day is one of the six holy days where attendance at Mass is mandatory for Roman Catholics and Anglicans. The event is generally a one-day public commemoration, although the Church, in keeping with earlier traditions regarding festivals, might offer devotions for seven days.

For many Christians, Ascension Day's meaning provides a sense of hope that the glorious and triumphant return of Christ is near. We remember what the angels said after Jesus ascended to heaven, that Jesus will return. It is a reminder of the Reign of God within their hearts. Furthermore, we are reminded that Christ is now with God representing us and advocating our relationship with God through him.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he told the apostles to go to Jerusalem and wait there for the power from on high. Jesus said, “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." In other words, as he ascended to heaven, he promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, which arrived on Pentecost, ten days later. But his comment didn’t end there. The power that they received, and we now receive, had an intentional purpose. We are to be witnesses to his life-giving acts, the promises he gave, and the thoughts of how we are to live in relationship with God and our fellow humans.

This coming Thursday, June 2, is Ascension Day. I would be surprised if there are any worship services available, except in the Roman Catholic churches. The festival has become lost in the hurry-scurry of our every day lives along with the distractions that the world brings. While it might be difficult to bring the festival back into the sanctuaries, we could spend time that day, considering his life, death, and resurrection here on earth. We could then ponder how we, as his disciples, might better be witnesses to all that Jesus Christ represents.

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