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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

Baptist boy.

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

discipline.

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

the year.

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

God.

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.