FAITH IN FOCUS: SAME OLD SONG?
For many years, on the Thursday of Ascension, it was customary for one of the BBC radio stations to begin its morning broadcast by playing a well know hymn to celebrate the feast: “Hail the day that sees him rise.” This is quite surprising, since in an increasingly secularised society most people are unaware of the significance of the Ascension. But this great hymn tune is a great start to the feast.
People often wonder why Jesus waited around on earth 40 days after his resurrection, but that period is no accident. Jesus had endured the Devil’s temptation for 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his public ministry, but now the tables were turned.
In the post-resurrection period Jesus triumphantly paraded his victory over the Devil and all his works. During this time, the conqueror of death displayed his supremacy before his faithful followers so that they might share in the joy of his victory. But there was another reason. Those 40 days of his appearing after the resurrection were of immense value to the believers for they established the reality of his lordship. A single sighting of the risen Christ may have been open to question, but his many encounters with them would remove the doubts of the most sceptical among them and assure them that he was risen indeed.
The Ascension is not about Christ leaving us, but about his going before us. Those of us who gather to celebrate this feast are far from being orphans abandoned to our own religious devices. Our Ascension Day liturgical assembly gathers to celebrate the virtue of hope, conscious that our prayers are to the God whose Son has now passed from our sight, but our songs vibrate with the faith-filled conviction that where Christ has gone we will surely follow.
So Ascension is very much an Easter feast even though we are tempted to think of it as a separate event. In fact, we speak about the “Easter Mysteries” which include the passion of Christ, his resurrection, his ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Every time we take part in worship we are recalling some aspect or other of these four elements in the Easter story. That’s why Easter is not a one-day but a fifty-day feast of music and prayer.
Like the other three Easter events, Ascension is about hope. Christ who has risen above death and evil ascends on high, not to leave us desolate and alone, but to send us the ever-present help of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Christ has finished his mission on earth as he ascends to the Father. He returns to claim a share in God’s life for each one of us. Where he has gone we hope to follow.