Acts 1: 9 – 11
After Jesus said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Today is Ascension Day, and perhaps, in the words of Michael Caine ‘not a lot of people know that’. Certainly in the Presbyterian tradition it is one of those Festivals that has been neglected if not forgotten entirely.
That is not the case in other traditions. I went to two Primary Schools, both as it happened were Church of England schools, both founded and indeed funded originally by the local big landowner. It was the tradition in both schools that although Ascension Day was not a day off it was a day when we got out on a school trip. Excitedly we would arrive early with our packed lunches neatly parcelled (no fizzy drinks allowed), we would be lined up outside the bus and before being allowed to board we had to recite en masse The Catechism. I am sure we went elsewhere but the only destination I remember is Bristol Zoo.
It was though a way of marking and celebrating Ascension Day and the run up to Whit Sunday, Pentecost, which is one of the Festivals celebrated in Presbyterianism, especially this year as our new Moderator Right Rev Martin Fair will be hosting a special service on Sunday from 10am (available on all Church of Scotland platforms such as FB, website, Twitter etc.). A busy day for the online Church – perhaps we can break the internet again like we did last Sunday!
Matthew and John do not mention any Ascension at all and Mark dismisses it in one verse merely saying that Jesus was taken up to Heaven. Luke on the other hand talks about it twice; once in his account of the Gospe,l and again here in Acts.
In his Gospel account there is a great contrast with the events after the crucifixion, where the followers are in despair and full of sorrow. The confusion of the two travellers to Emmaus is replaced by wonder as they watch Jesus go from their sight. The very last verse of Luke’s Gospel says they went back to Jerusalem filled with great joy.
Joy had replaced the grief of the early Easter, the doubt and uncertainty were now gone, replaced with the knowledge that although Jesus was no longer with them in body he would never leave them; he was alive now and forever more. No wonder they rejoiced. No wonder we too rejoice.
The darkest night of Good Friday and Holy Saturday are replaced with the glorious light of the Resurrection and the banishment of fear. As we contemplate with such mixed emotions the darkness of the Pandemic we can have faith that our Risen Ascended Lord has not abandoned us, and together we will get through to the dawn on the other side.
Lord God, our loving Father in Heaven, you are the Ascended Lord of All. We worship you with uplifted hearts looking to the glories of Heaven. Hear us as we praise you for all you left behind, in faith, hope and belief, and all you promised us in the glory yet to come.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,