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Archive for May 18th, 2016

The 40th day after our Lord’s Resurrection, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1  ).  I have been in more than one discussion with fellow pastors (in the ELCA) in which the question is asked, a week or two before Ascension Thursday: “Do you do Ascension?”.  “No, no one shows up”. Full disclosure:  in our small mission, we did not observe Ascension this year because many of us could not attend.  I made a mistake.  Even if our members could not attend, a visitor may have and beyond that:  Thursday  May 5 was Ascension. Ascension is certainly of greater importance than say, Cinco de Mayo!

Now I have heard that more congregations are observing the seventh Sunday of Easter (Exaudi) as “Ascension Sunday”.  I am currently employed as the part-time Chaplain at our local hospice.A volunteer receptionist, a retired German prof and Episcopalian asked me last week about his congregation, and even the Roman Catholics, now have “Ascension Sunday”with very little on the 40th Day after Easter.  His question:  What’s happened?  When did this begin?  And, This is not right. This layman was rightly appalled.  I pointed out that this has been devolving for as long as I  have been pastor, but I did not have an answer, but now I think I have an answer.

After my discussion with the retired prof, I remembered this quote from a booklet, Digest of the Liturgical Seasons from the works of Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B. (1943) by Bernard Beck, O.S.B.,S.T.D. and this pertinent quote on Ascension:

“…now the hour of separation is come. Jesus rises; His Blessed Mother and the hundred and twenty persons assembled there prepare to follow Him. The holy group makes its way to the Mount of Olives. It is the last time Jesus walks through the faithless city. He is invisible to the eyes of people who denied Him, but visible to His disciples, and goes before them, as heretofore the pillar of fire led on the Israelites. How beautiful and imposing a sight! Mary, the disciples, and the holy women accompanying Jesus in His heavenward journey, which is to lead Him to the right hand of His eternal Father! It was commemorated in the Middle Ages by a solemn procession before the Mass of Ascension Day. What religious times were those, when Christians took delight in honoring every action of our Redeemer! They could not be satisfied as we are with a few vague notions which can produce nothing but an equally vague devotion.”(emphasis my own)

I think this monk was onto something and yes, what an imposing sight!  First,(and for a more thorough critique in an another article):  the picture of Jesus, especially for my generation (baby boomers) has been more informed (and conformed!) by “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell” than the Gospels. This results in secondarily that we have a few vague notions about the Lord, Church,and Christian teaching these days and many of those notions are vague sentimental feelings about the truth which sets us free, or images that are non-Scriptural and so misleading.  The Feast of the Ascension has not gone away but many of us have gone away from it and so much in the Church Year. The Church Year is like post-it notes on our souls to remind us of our Savior. Why has this happened?  I think that our vague notions can come from vague and Scripture denying sermons and teaching. This then has devolved into worship like the Burger King slogan, “You can have it your way”.  We have forgotten the Creeds and have looked only upon our deeds, not knowing where the authority and power to love as He first loved us originates.  We have forgotten the rich vein of doctrine in the Ascension, such as:

  • The mission of the Church (Acts   ), that is, missiology
  • The intimate connections between two Thursdays:  Ascension Thursday and Maundy Thursday:  the Ascension and the real presence of the Lord in the Holy Communion, that is liturgical theology
  • Living not after the time of Christ, but in the time under Christ and the meaning of the life of the Church, that is, authority in the Church
  • The Mount of Olives, place of betrayal and Ascension, that is, Christology
  • The meaning of true worship and the Incarnation, again, Christology
  • The Lord’s gentle admonition against the theology of glory, ecclesiology 

I know there are more precious stones in this vein than I have listed. Encourage your pastor, or pastor your people because we need as much of the Church Year as possible!

 

 

 

 

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