Ascension should have it’s own Sunday
By Revd John Rackley, orginally published in The Baptist Times
The Ascension should have its own Sunday
Although the Church Year gives the Ascension its own special Thursday (this
year 29 May), John Rackley regrets that the need to keep to a pattern curiously
shaped by the Luke’s timeline following
the resurrection of Jesus means Sunday
worship before Pentecost is impoverished.
I first noticed there was something different
when some pupils from my school would
be allowed officially to skive off to church
on what was for me just another day in the
week. I was told, sometimes in a rather
furtive way that it was the Catholics who
did this; so not for the likes of me – just a
Later I would discover it was Ascension
Day. I wasn’t exactly too aware of the
Church year in my upbringing but from all
that I got a sort of double message.
Ascension Day was not like Easter Day because it was not a Sunday, but it
was special enough to take you away
from school! So there must have
been something to it. Apparently there
is evidence to suggest that it is the
earliest Christian festival dating back
to within three decades of Jesus.
It is now concludes Rogation tide, a
time of prayer and discipline in which
the blessings of God are sought not
only for a good harvest but a fruitful
life in anticipation of the celebration of
Pentecost. As if Lent were not enough
off we go again through another
40 days and nights of devotional
Whilst for many Christians this
provides a helpful pattern for
discipleship, for others it is just too
legalistic and they find that the structure of the Church Year is too contrived. For
them all the seasons of Jesus are celebrated in every act of Christian worship
and one shouldn’t be too picky – we live in a post-Pentecost era at all times of
But as there is a Church Year to be followed then I, for one, have come to regret
the absence of an Ascension Sunday, although it is possible to use the following
Sunday to reflect on the importance of the ascension of Jesus.
For its importance cannot be denied. It does not surprise me that it might have
been one of the earliest Christian ‘holy days’. For it sets Christ apart. He is up
there beyond the emperors and the gods of empire.
Within just a few years of the lifetime of Jesus Paul had seen through the
resurrection to the glory of the One who has been ‘seated at the right hand of
the Father of glory far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and
has all things under his feet’.
The fashions of recent years have negatively criticised Paul for his lack of
acknowledgement of the life work of Jesus. But this can miss his point. Jesus is
the Christ who has gone beyond one life time. His humanity has been lifted to
the heights of the throne of God. And with his, so has ours.
Currently our prayer and spirituality seems to be dominated by the discovery
of the God within. So the language of ‘up there’ and ‘out there’ can feel out of
touch. Well let it be – because in Jesus God was doing more than giving us a
bit of moral inspiration. God wasn’t just being relevant. He was laying down a
foundation for lift-off. He was turning us toward the ascent we can make into
heights of who we are in Christ.
It might be helpful to portray Jesus as the person in whom God who got down
and dirty, but that’s not his natural habitat anymore than it is ours.
Ascension is the time to celebrate the outer reaches of our human
understanding of Christ and ponder how we may go beyond the particularity of
his Incarnation. Is he forever, the risen Palestinian Jew?
In his time Jesus challenged the powers and authorities of state and religion. It
is the Ascension that lifts him out of that cultural setting and through his Spirit
drops him into the same challenges of our own time. The Ascending Christ is
the Lord and Giver of Life whose Spirit calls his disciples to have no Caesar but
The Ascension initiates the pathway of dissent and non-conformity which is the
birth-right of all Christians and along which the first Christian martyrs trod within
those early decades of the post-Pentecost era.
Thus I argue that of all Christian holy-days it is the Ascension that should
inspire Baptists. It is our Maundy Thursday; the day when we turn out for
church on a day other than Sunday. It provides the spiritual starting point for
Dissent. It is the justification for the cry ‘not in our name’.
So thank you Catholic Christians for keeping the tradition, and may some other
Christians, especially those who are proud of their non-conformity, join you.