Ascension Day

This post is the fifth in a series of articles on the Seasons, Sundays, and Feast Days that make up the Church’s liturgical calendar.  Feast Days are those days set aside by the Church to celebrate and commemorate martyrs, Christians of the past, events from the life of Christ, and other Biblical stories. Join us as we journey through the celebrations of the ancient Church.

At Redemption City Church, we plan our liturgy, preaching, and church life around the traditional Church calendar (also known as the Liturgical Calendar). We believe this is useful and healthy for a Christ-centered church and followers of Christ. In highlighting the traditional Feast Days as well, we do so in order to boast in Christ, and in Christ alone. These stories are centered on Him and we rejoice in celebrating His mighty wonders and deeds. 

You can find out more about the church calendar and why we follow it as a church in our previous article

Scripture Reading

  • Acts 1:1-11
  • Ephesians 1:15-23
  • Philippians 2:6-11
  • Luke 24:44-53
  • Psalm 47

What is Ascension Day?

Ascension Day is a feast day observed by the Church on the fortieth day of the Easter season.  On Ascension, the church celebrates Christ’s miraculous ascension from earth into heaven, his installment as the world’s judge, and the promise that he will return to earth.  As the Nicene Creed attests, the Ascension is a disclosure of Christ’s divine power and authority as sovereign ruler, “He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; from there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”  

The Gospel Narrative

Luke recounts the Ascension in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  On the Mount of Olives, Jesus gathers his disciples for one last conversation.  Below them, to the west, lies Jerusalem and the Golden Gate which leads to the Temple.  This scene appears peaceful now, but Jesus knows that in two generations the city below will be obscured by smoke as Roman legions plunder the city and destroy the temple at the end of the Jewish Revolt of AD 70.

The bewildered disciples, still expecting that Jesus will free Israel from the yoke of Roman oppression ask if he will now, at last, establish his kingdom.  Jesus replies that his timetable is not for them to know; instead, He tells them that he will send the Holy Spirit to give them power for the difficult days that lie ahead and commissions the disciples to be his witnesses in the surrounding regions.  Jesus then disappears from their presence.  

All the miraculous events surrounding the life of Christ are either preceded or proceeded by angelic messengers.  This event is no different.  Two heavenly beings appear to the disciples and inform them that Jesus will one day return to earth.  Overwhelmed by the miraculous event that they had just witnessed, the disciples return to Jerusalem and join the rest of the Jesus-followers in prayer

Voices from the Early Church

In his sermon on the Ascension, St. Augustine (Bishop of Hippo – modern day Annaba, Algeria, AD 354-430) ties Luke’s account of the Ascension to the words of Paul in Colossians 3:1-4, 

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  

Augustine writes,

“Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace…For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.” 

For Augustine, Christ’s Ascension depicts our union with Christ - the way we are joined to God by Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.  This unity with Christ means that while we are alive on earth, at the same time, we participate through Christ in the eternal life of God (Acts 17:28; Ephesians 2:4-7).  According to Augustine, the Ascension offers hope that one day we will fully realize and experience Christ’s promise of redemption and renewal. Though Christ is “absent” from his us in bodily form, we take comfort from the presence of the third person of the trinity – the Holy Spirit – who abides with us and intercedes on our behalf (Rom. 8:26-27).  Thus, the Ascension does not depict God’s exit from the world; rather, it speaks to his dominion over the world and his continued presence and working in it and in us.

Sources

  • Augustine, Sermo de Ascensione Domini, Mai 98, 1-2, PLS 2, 494-495
  • Johnson, Marcus Peter, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation, Crossway: 2013, pg. 80.

Prayers

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens,
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen
— RCL (Year A)
Risen Christ,
you have raised our human nature to the throne of heaven:
help us to seek and serve you,
that we may join you at the Father’s side,
where you reign with the Spirit in glory,
now and forever.
Amen
— RCL (Year A)