Yesterday (Thursday, May 14) marked the end of Easter season. It’s interesting that many American Protestant Christians don’t realize that there is a church calendar followed by most of the world’s Christians in more liturgical traditions (i.e. Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism). Easter is preceded by 40 days of mourning. This time period, familiar to some evangelicals, is called Lent. It’s a time of reflection upon our sin and is based on the 40 days that Jesus spent being tempted in the wilderness.
Less familiar is that there are 40 days of Easter, leading up to Ascension Day. Even in more liturgical traditions, Ascension Day tends to get overlooked. Unlike other major church holidays, there is no special service or liturgy for Ascension Day. I have found this to be highly problematic.
Without the Ascension, the gospel is incomplete.
The Ascension marks the time in which the Apostles were met with great confusion. Jesus had just promised the in the Great Commission that he would remain with them always, even unto the end of the ages. But pretty much right after saying this, he is taken into the clouds and ascends into heaven. This has to be confusing for the disciples.
We know now that Christ is still with us through his Holy Spirit. But we still live in this time of tension. It’s what theologians refer to as the “already-not-yet” tension. The kingdom of God has already been brought to earth by Jesus in his earthly ministry, but it has not yet been consummated as it will be when he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.
The Ascension reminds us of this. It reminds us to live holy lives as we await the return of Christ. It reminds us to work for truth and justice, standing in solidarity with the oppressed. The Ascension of Christ is every bit as necessary to the gospel narrative as the crucifixion and resurrection. Without it, we do not fully understand the implications of Jesus’ ministry.