Four reasons why Christians celebrate Ascension Day
- Ascension Day is one of the great feasts of the Christian faith, celebrated from very ancient times, marking our celebration of Jesus being received physically into heaven. The four gospels provide mysterious, minimal references to Jesus' physical departure, but in the first few verses of Acts of the Apostles, St Luke provides much more detail: Jesus is received into heaven, lifted up into cloud, as the disciples watch him depart. It is an incident similar in nature to Jesus' Baptism and the Transfiguration: moments when the earthly Jesus of Nazareth can be seen much more clearly in his true heavenly glory.
- In the Old Testament, there is a clear parallel in the departure of the great holy prophet Elijah (2 Kings 2v6-12), lifted up into heavenly glory, witnessed by his disciple Elisha who picks up Elijah's cloak, or 'mantle'. The implication for both Elisha and Jesus' disciples is clear – their task now is to continue the work of the one who called them to follow.
- Ascension Day is always forty days after Easter, and ten days before Pentecost (the word Pentecost refers to Fifty Days after Passover). So there is no fixed date for Ascension Day – it moves around the calendar according to the date of Easter. It marks the start of what is often called a 'novena', a period of focussed, intensive prayer, in this instance anticipating the promised gift of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
- The Ascension is one of those moments in Christian history where we are challenged by the sheer physicality of the Gospel message: for God, there is no unbridgeable divide between the physical world and God's heavenly realm. In Jesus Christ, the Word of God becomes flesh, as we celebrate every Christmas. At Easter Jesus rises physically from the dead. At Ascension Jesus is received physically in heaven. Our physicality is wholly acceptable to God.
Gweddïwn / Let us pray
Hollalluog Dduw, fel yr ydym yn credu i'th unig-anedig Fab Iesu Grist ein Harglwydd esgyn i'r nef, gweddïwn arnat ganiatáu i ninnau ym meddylfryd ein calon ymddyrchafu a thrigo yno'n wastad gydag ef; sy'n fyw ac yn teyrnasu gyda thi a'r Ysbryd Glan, yn un Duw, yn awr ac am byth. Amen.
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens, so we in heart and mind may also ascend and with him continually dwell; who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Written by Revd Canon Tim Jones, Director of Ministry & Discipleship.
More about Ascension Day
Conversations on the Ascension of Christ (from our friends at Conversations On)