Somehow or other over the last forty to fifty years, Ascension Day seems to have been cut adrift from the other major feast days in the Church of England. When I was at primary school, we all got marched to church on Ascension Day for a special service and then had the afternoon off as extra holiday. Nowadays in the Church of England, Ascension is, overall, marked quite soberly and with restraint. In other churches and especially the Orthodox Church, Ascension Day remains a major feast and festival, not just theoretically, but in practice. So, I am really pleased that today’s prayers have been written by a young member of the Greek Orthodox Church, locked down with her grandparents here in Winslow; thank you Zoe.
So why should we take Ascension Day seriously; what is the so what or invitation behind the Ascension? Surely all Ascension, you might think, is the tiny bit of detail wedged between the Resurrection and Pentecost? Well, it may well be that not much bible footage – in fact just three verses – is given to the Ascension, but that does not mean that it is not hugely significant. In fact, maybe it is so significant that to add extra words, to pan out the story, would be to diminish its significance? Just a thought?
The Ascension invites us and beckons us to do two things, or to look in two directions:
First, it invites us to look backwards at story of Jesus’ life, or the incarnation, afresh, from the perspective of a little distance. It invites us to see his life through the lens of Eulogy. This means looking at his life with a sense of praise and thanksgiving, remembering all that he did and achieved on our behalf.
But, a word of caution: please don’t, when you are Eulogising over Jesus’ life, fall into the trap of recollecting the facts of his life – then he did this, then he did that. Remember the why or the purpose of his life, the value and ethos of his life, and then take that into your hearts, so that you are strengthened to live better, more purposeful lives in the nitty gritty of the here and now and on into your unknown and unknowable futures.
Secondly, the Ascension allows to look forward in a spirit of anticipation to Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. Pentecost is the moment when the church is breathed into being and given a common language spoken in diverse tongues. It is also the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise that he will not leave us orphaned.
Ascension Day invites us to pause and stand stock still, providing us with the opportunity to look back at the life of Jesus, through the lens of Eulogy, in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving, truly remembering all that he achieved through his earthly life, and to look forward to Pentecost in a spirit of hopeful expectation. Through the Ascension, the past and the future are brought into the present.
Today, let us take our part in recapturing the essence of Ascension Day,