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Asking the Clergy: What is Ascension Day?

Ascension Day, a religious holiday that celebrates the death and/or heavenly rising of a religious figure, is very important, but not necessarily well understood. Our clergy unravel the mystery of Ascension.

Danielle Miller, pastor, Oceanside Lutheran Church; past president, Oceanside Interfaith Council:

Ascension Day (May 9) is 40 days after Easter, or the Resurrection of Jesus. Forty shows up in Scripture often and speaks to completeness. Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness. The Israelites were wandering in the desert for 40 years. Christ spent 40 days with his disciples after his resurrection. At the end of the 40 days, his bodily work on Earth was complete.

When he ascends, it is said his disciples stared up open-mouthed. Two men appeared to them and asked why they looked upward to heaven instead of around themselves here on Earth to see what good they could be doing.

Jesus left so we could be empowered to continue his work. Before his ascension, God was working through him to bring about goodness in the world. After he ascends, it shifts and we become the physical body of Christ in the world. We are to share God's good news with a hurting world.

He promised us that the good news of the Holy Spirit would be given to us so we could be strengthened to follow his commands. That occurs shortly after Pentecost, which is 50 days after Easter, or 10 days after the Ascension. It is one of the biggest church high holidays, the giving of the Holy Spirit to people.

Ascension Day is a time to recommission ourselves to do God's work and to affirm our vocation as Christians to do good in the world.

The Rev. Martin Kraus, rector, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, East Meadow:

Ascension for us, as Christians, begins with why Christ came down to Earth. He came down from his father to be with us. He became a man and humbled himself to be with us humans, to save us. Yet, he also remained a god. He did it to show God's love and mercy.

Christ gave his life for the life of the world. He conquered and destroyed death by his own death and resurrection.

Christ ascends in the flesh to be glorified in heaven, thereby allowing us as humans to be glorified -- if we choose to accept that glorification. We give thanks on Ascension Day for that gift.

Ascension Day (June 13) is 40 days after his resurrection. After his resurrection, Jesus spends 40 days with his disciples and apostles. We celebrate with the Feast of the Ascension. We also recite a special hymn. And, while we usually fast every Wednesday and Friday, we do not fast at this time. It is a time of celebration.

Marie McNair, administrator, Baha'i of Long Island, Valley Stream:

We don't call it Ascension Day, but at 3 a.m. May 29, we as Baha'is will observe the ascension of Baha'u'llah, who is the prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith. This is the anniversary of his death in 1892 at age 75. Baha'is will come together either in public gatherings or in their own homes for prayer to read from his writing and reflect on his extraordinary life and influence.

He was in prison and exile for more than 40 years in Persia and other places in the Middle East, during which he proclaimed that he was the next in a great line of messengers of God that includes Moses, Jesus and Mohammad. He said his mission was to lead humanity to lasting peace. His central message is that of unity. He taught that there is only one God, only one human race and that all the world's religions represent stages in the revelation of God's will and purpose for humanity.

Baha'is don't believe that heaven is a place, but is a condition of being closer to God. And hell means remoteness from God. So, ascension is a condition of being closer to God.

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