Thursday, June 2, 2011

Feast of the Ascension: We are not left alone

Today is one of the nearly forgotten feast days of the Christian Calendar, the Feast of the Ascension. It marks the day Jesus is said to have "ascended" into Heaven while his disciples watched him rise into the sky. It marks the near-end of the Eastertide season, giving a bookend to the empty tomb of Easter Day.

The gospels, particularly Matthew 27:50-53 and Matthew 28:16-20, portray the departure of Jesus as more chaotic, with ghosts freed from their tombs and swirling about the countryside -- and all of this happening all at once. The Gospel of Luke 24:50-51 is more straightforward, with the Ascension as a hinge moment between the departure of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13.

The Christian calendar spreads these events over 50 days so that we can reflect on each slowly and deliberately, and that is a good thing. But did it happen exactly this way? We are left to contemplate an answer.

The point is that Jesus as human has left us in body but remains with us as Holy Spirit. We are not left alone, we have an "advocate" to be with us always. Yet there is another point as well: it is so very hard to say goodbye. Humans are made for greetings and connections, and letting them go is painful and difficult, especially when someone we love dies. We are physical beings and losing the physical touch of someone we love is heartbreaking. The first disciples must have had a terrible time letting go of Jesus even though they could feel his presence with them in a new way. They had felt his touch and the healing he brought. Now he would touch them in a different way, and that took getting used to. Ascension is about God's glory, but it is bitter sweet like life itself.

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Tonight two of our sister Episcopal churches in the area will combine their choirs to present a special Evensong for Ascension Day -- Emmanuel, Greenwood and St. Paul's, Ivy.  The Evensong is at 5:30 pm at St. Paul's, Ivy, and for directions and more information, click HERE. I plan to be there and hope you can come, too.

Art: The Ascension, by John Singleton Copley, 1775.

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