The season of Easter lasts for 50 days – 7 Sundays in total! A seminary professor of mine, from whom I came to appreciate and love the rhythms and themes of the liturgical year, taught me that while Lent is a season set aside to reflect on who we are as disciples of Christ, the season of Easter is a season set aside to reflect on who we understand Jesus Christ to be – the Good Shepherd, the Vine, the one who prepares the way for us.
Today though, marks a particularly important day in our Easter season, though we don’t tend to mark it liturgically in our Presbyterian tradition. Today is Ascension Day. If we gathered for worship this day we might read from the Gospel of Luke, or even from Luke’s sequel to his gospel – the Acts of the Apostles. Here it is from Acts 1:
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? ’He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Acts 1:6-11
I would be the first to confess that I have always found this story to be a little strange. It is a little too supernatural for me. I am far more comfortable with an earth bound Jesus - a Jesus whose feet are firmly planted on the dusty roads of Galilee, rather than one drifting up into the clouds.
This is the moment of transition for us as Christians each Easter, as we reconcile ourselves to following what biblical scholar Marcus Borg called the pre-Easter and the post Easter Jesus - believing in both the Jesus who was born into a particular moment in time and a Jesus who lives eternally beyond our understanding of time. This moment of ascension, in its oddness, reminds us that believing in Christ eternal is indeed a little odd. It is beyond our reason, beyond our understanding. It is an act of faith and an act of hope. Today on Ascension Day, we are reminded that faith sometimes is about believing in the unbelievable.
We declare this faith each time we recite the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Just as Jesus reminds the disciples in Acts, that the Spirit will soon be upon them, so too we look to the end of the Easter season and the celebration of Pentecost in over a week. But until that day, may we continue to reflect on the living, risen, and ascended Christ in all his grit and glory.