Before the 1979 Book of Common Prayer the Episcopal Church observed an older Kalendar which ended the Easter Season on Ascension Day, forty days after Easter Day. Ascensiontide, as it was known, was the ten days of celebration which marked the Ascension of our Lord into heaven until the Even of Whitsun, an older Anglican name for the Day of Pentecost. The Day of Pentecost is fifty days after Easter Day, hence the name.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer sought to reclaim an older tradition of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, from Easter Day to Pentecost Day. An unintentional consequence was the lessened significance of Ascension Day and the loss of Ascensiontide. There are nine hymns in The Hymnal 1982 appointed for Ascension Day, and The Book of Common Prayer lists Ascension Day as one of the seven Principal Feasts of the Church.
So, what is so important about the Ascension and what theology is undergirding our observance of this day?
Ascension Day held significant meaning for the early Church who believed that the physical ascension of our Lord into heaven was a visible reminder of God’s authority in Christ. The Ascension means that God has not only raised the crucified Christ from the dead, but that God has also given the crucified Christ authority and power. Just as God chose to become human for our sake, to take the form of a baby and to live, die, and be raised for us, God has also chosen to take our human form to God’s self.
Imagine for one moment, what it means for the creator of the universe, who formed us from the dust of the earth, to take our human form into the Godhead. If Christ is ascended to God’s right hand, then God’s very nature is changed for all time, and in God’s nature there is a human body.
In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we see God’s never-failing love towards us. In Christ’s ascension, we lift our eyes to the same God, who took our human form to himself and reveled a love that will not cease, until all of creation is reconciled in Christ.
Join us for an Ascension Day service of Holy Eucharist with organ and hymns on Thursday, May 25 at Noon.
The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector