The Easter Mystery — Ascension Thursday

Yesterday was the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. I remember a sermon on Ascension Thursday some years back when the preacher claimed that “important things happen on Thursdays.” He we referring to the Institution of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday as well as to the Ascension. These days both for convenience and accepting certain realities, we are permitted to celebrate the Ascension on the following Sunday as we will do this Sunday. At least that way we get to sing the wonderful Ascension hymns and to hear the Ascension texts from Luke and Acts. In our recent Adult Christian Education classes on the development of the New Testament we looked at Luke/Acts, “One story in two parts.” The Ascension is only mentioned in Luke/Acts and for good measure is mentioned twice. Luke’s Gospel ends with the Ascension thus bringing to a close the “orderly account” of the life of Jesus, while Acts begins with the Ascension as the commencement of the account of the life of the Church. In other words, the Ascension is a pivotal moment in the great Easter story. It ends the period of the physical appearances of the Risen Christ and inaugurates the next phase of Jesus’ Exaltation which includes the Heavenly Reign and the Outpouring of the Spirit of the Risen Christ on the disciples at Pentecost. You could say the Ascension moves the whole Jesus experience from the particular to the general, from the local to the universal. No longer is the Risen Christ bounded by time and place but moves beyond these limitations to the universal dimension of heaven itself. All our spatial language is to some degree metaphorical. There is a sense that all that we try to give language to with regard to spiritual realities is futile since they are “beyond language.” But be that as it may, our celebrations of the three aspects of the Easter Mystery: Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost; a “celebration in three stages” if you like; helps we mere mortals to grasp the full dimensions of the Easter Faith. So, let those Alleluias roll on up to and including the Feast of Pentecost itself.