Monday, May 7, 2018


The Ascension - John Singleton Copley
Ascension Day is one of the principal feasts of the Christian Calendar. This means it is to be ranked alongside Christmas, Easter  and and Pentecost, and yet it has rarely been accorded the same sort of importance in the life of the Church, or in the practice of individual Christians. Perhaps this is in part because the event it commemorates -- the ascension of the risen Jesus -- is recorded by only one evangelist, Luke (though that is also true of the Epiphany which is found only in Matthew). Perhaps it is because over the centuries, its precise location in the Christian year has been subject to local variation. But mainly, I think, it is because the theological significance of the event it celebrates -- Ascension -- is very hard to separate from the two events by which it is surrounded -- Easter Resurrection and the coming of Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

One way of identifying the uniquesignificance of Ascension, however, is to note the special way in which the brief period between Ascension Day and Pentecost unites us, and Christians of every age, with the first disciples. The Apostles Peter, John, Andrew and so on, saw Jesus in the flesh. They walked and talked with him, watched, listened to him and ate with him over the three years of his ministry. That ministry ended in apparent failure of course, but then, as physical witnesses of the Risen Christ, the Apostles were granted a second opportunity to be in the company of the Son of God.

The Ascension of Christ - Altdorfer
In the pursuit of our discipleship, we do not have these advantages. We must live in faith in a way that those few Galileans did not have to do. The Ascension is special because it marks the point at which Jesus left them to complete their discipleship, importantly by finding a faith just like ours. His departure "from their sight"  meant that for a short time they had to stand firm in knowledge of the Resurrection, but without his unique presence to sustain them. In this way, his Ascension required them to relinquish their privileged position and prepare themselves for what the rest of us rely on -- a Holy Spirit that draws us into the eternal life of the Father whom we do not see and the Son whom we never met.

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