May 21, 2020by Reverend Dan on May 21, 2020
“After the Lord had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”
Today is Ascension Day (also known as Holy Thursday although some churches observe it on the following Sunday). It falls on the 40th day after Easter (kind of like a reverse Lent), and it remembers the bodily ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. In days gone by, it was celebrated in the church with the same fervor as the Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost.
How do you celebrate Ascension Day? Do you put up an Ascension tree? Hang Ascension lights? Do you find your Time-Life Treasury of Ascension Music and listen to Burl Ives and Bing Crosby sing about Ascension days gone by? Do some shopping for just the right Ascension gift? Maybe you hide Ascension eggs and have an Ascension Egg Hunt for the kids. Or maybe you just wish everyone you see, “Merry Ascension”!
I’ve got a confession to make. I don’t ever remember celebrating – even once – Ascension Day. I get Good Friday, the day Jesus died for our sins. I get Easter, when he rose out of the grave after defeating Satan and death. I get Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down and started the church. But Ascension Day? That’s the day He left us! Why should I celebrate that?
First, this was the day that Jesus entered Heaven as the final, ultimate, and perfect sacrifice for sin. Atonement is complete.
Second, Jesus is the High Priest who has entered the sanctuary of Heaven, and because He sits down at the right hand of the father, He is signifying His work is done. (Priests remained standing as long as they were performing their duties. When they were done, only then did they sit down. This is Jesus’ signal that everything has been taken care of.)
And third, Jesus is now sitting on the throne, signifying that the King has returned to rule over His people. So, while it looks like leaving to us, in reality it is Jesus returning to where He came from. Jesus has gone home to prepare a place for you and I so that we can go and be with Him and where His rule will never end.
Some denominations have abandoned the church calendar (the annual holidays and days of remembrance within the church). Some still recognize parts of it, the “big” ones. And others (Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, the Reformed Church) still celebrate it in its entirety. Part of the reason lies with the Reformers of the 16th century. They wanted to rid the church of the excessive ceremony and make faith a simpler, more personal experience. And in the process, they threw out the baby (the calendar) with the bath water. Then as new denominations (especially those in the evangelical vein) started to emerge, each one took an autonomous view of the purpose of the days on the calendar (based on the experiences they had), and thus the inconsistent celebration throughout the greater Church.
All that lends itself to the following questions. First, “Does the day matter?” It is central to our faith beliefs so, yes, it matters. Second, do we need to remember this day? Absolutely, but not only on this day. Christ sits on His throne as our atonement for sin and our King every day, and for that we should always be giving thanks.
Should it be celebrated? That’s up to the individual, but if you do, then how do you celebrate it? Some churches have “The Feast of Ascension”. Some have prayer services. Do whatever works for you. Just be careful. The focus of Christmas and Easter have become totally foreign from their meaning in our society. Let’s not obscure another Christian celebration and wrap it in the cloak of culture.
If we celebrate the sacrifice, grace and mercy of Jesus Christ every day in our hearts, that is celebration enough. It’s kind of like Tiny Tim says at the end of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” Do the same with all the church remembrance holidays.
“Father, Thank You for the ascension of Your Son back to His Throne, and for the sacrifice He made along His journey there. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”