The Feast of the Ascension, also known as Ascension Day and Ascension Thursday, is a holy day celebrated by Christians to commemorate Jesus Christ’s ascending bodily into heaven. This week’s clergy discuss the significance of the Ascension, traditionally celebrated on a Thursday, on the 40th day of the Easter season.
The Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder
Saint Mary’s Anglican Church, Amityville
One of the blessings of serving in the church as either a priest or a religious person, is that the liturgical cadences of the Christian life surround us, reminding one of his or her place in the divine plan of Almighty God. The hectic nature of modern life, however, often robs the average soul in his or her walk through life of this sense of the Holy in our midst. Ascension is one of those glorious, teaching feasts, which puts things in perspective. The story it tells resonates with the struggling soul, and leads it where it must be. After His resurrection on that first Easter, Jesus was with his disciples constantly. For 40 days they traveled together, broke bread, and generally lived the life they had before the nightmare of Good Friday and the Cross. All the while, Jesus was teaching them the mysteries of God and preparing them for the founding of the church. Suddenly, almost like Good Friday all over again, the Lord would be gone. On that first Ascension Day, Jesus was removed from their midst and entered into Heaven. Here was the defining moment for the future church, for the disciples did not despair or give up or make rash decisions — they prayed! They prayed their hearts out, seeking an answer. After nine days of intense prayer (the first novena of the church!) the answer came in the Person of the Holy Spirit, who rested upon them as tongues of fire in the Upper Room on Pentecost, and commissioned the Apostles as the first bishops of the church. The teaching is simple and glorious. In our darkest moments of fear, confusion, and alienation, follow the lead of the Apostles, and pray. God will answer . . . perhaps not in the way we wish or expect, but answer He will, and wrap us in His victorious love.
The Rev. William McBride
Religious director, Interfaith Community Religious Education Program, Brookville Multifaith Campus
I appreciate the chance to reflect on the importance of the Feast of the Ascension because it calls to mind a beautiful memory I have of a group of school children trying to fly kites after Mass on Ascension Thursday. With varying degrees of success, each child was putting his or heart into the endeavor. The words of their teacher can serve as wise advice for both getting a kite aloft and understanding the importance of The Ascension. “Wait for the wind,” she counseled each of her eager disciples. Instead of forcing the action by pulling the strings harder and harder or running faster and faster, the key is to wait for an unseen uplifting energy. The patience of the students paid off as kites suddenly filled the skies over the parish playground. The kids demonstrated the importance of The Ascension as an opportunity to celebrate the fruits of waiting for the wind. In faith terms, the wind is associated with the Breath of God known as the Holy Spirit. Learning to wait for this Wind and anticipate its fruits is a wise thing to do for believers preparing to celebrate the feast of the Holy Spirit known as Pentecost 10 days later.
The Very Rev. Lawrence R. De Lion
Rector, St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Smithtown
In this 21st century world where more and more people see Christians as nice but misguided people who believe in fairy tales, it becomes more and more difficult to see the relevance of the traditional beliefs of the church. The Feast of the Ascension, however, is not just ancient history. It is connected to our lives today. The scriptural witness about the departure of the Risen Christ clarifies for us that the Risen Lord is not going to appear to us in bodily form at our dinner tables or in our workplaces as he did to the disciples centuries ago. His being raised to heaven offers us hope that we too will be raised to eternal life with him one day in the fullness of God’s presence. It also reassures us that we are not left completely alone in our journeys through life. The Risen and Ascended Lord can now be present to us in the Spirit in so many more ways than one man could ever be at any one time in any one place. It is this same Risen and Ascended Lord that beckons us into the world to carry on his saving work of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, welcoming strangers, breaking down the walls and barriers that divide us, and welcoming the outcasts into our communities. Truly, these are things that we can still celebrate in this often confusing, modern world.