Thoughts on Ascension Day
5/25 - Pastor's Post
So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?' 7He replied, 'It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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.' 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards 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.'    Acts 1:6-11
I'm writing this post on Ascension Day, May 25, 2017, 40 days after Easter. It's a church holiday that is no longer widely observed here in the United States, except in larger liturgical parishes, and among for example Roman Catholics, and surprisingly, the Amish. When I was growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I can remember more than one Thursday in May when someone would observe, "There sure are a lot of Amish buggies on the road today." And then we'd realize: it must be Ascension Day!
The Lutheran churches in Europe all continue to hold services (often with somewhat low attendance) on this day, and in Germany it's an official holiday, which is also celebrated as Father's Day (think about it: Jesus returns on this day to the right hand of the Father). It should however be mentioned that a lot of secular activity usually goes on, (often necessitating having a designated driver when it's time to return home) which has little to do with the original meaning of the day (see the quotation above from Acts 1).
But what does this largely forgotten day mean for the 21st Century Christian? It can be understood as a fulfillment of our Lord's words in John 14: In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you...I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.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.
These words were fulfilled on Pentecost, which we celebrate this year on Sunday, June 4. Christ has indeed ascended into heaven (it's in the Apostles' Creed: "On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father...") and is no longer bodily present on earth. But through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we are able to do great things in the name of Christ. John 14:12-13 says it all: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
And that's how we fit into the Ascension Day Story. The words of the two men in white robes (angels, if you want to use that term) speak directly to us: "Don't stand around gazing up into heaven. There's work to be done in Jesus' name, a hurting and divided world waiting to be healed and reconciled, and you're about to receive power from high to take part in this ongoing, holy task!"
So let's look up for inspiration, be it on festivals like Ascension Day or any time we gather in church to worship, but then be ready to go out wherever the Lord sends us and continue the healing and reconciling work of Christ under the Spirit's guidance.
Pastor John Schweitzer
Last Published: June 8, 2017 9:23 AM
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