God has gone up with a shout; the Lord with the sound of the ram's horn! Today we celebrate the great feast of the Ascension, and I have been heartened to see how more churches are faithfully observing this day. When I was living in Jerusalem, the church offices were closed on the Ascension, because this day is truly a great occasion. The Ascension is one of the principle feasts of the prayer book, along with Christmas, All Saints, Easter, the Epiphany, and Pentecost. Unlike our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, in the Episcopal Church we are not allowed to transfer this feast to the following Sunday, but we must observe it on the actual day. As a child I always looked forward to the Ascension, and I still do as an adult. This was not because of some fanciful depictions of Jesus flying through the air on a cloud, but rather the glorification of Jesus always made me happy, even as a little boy. (If you are curious about the theology of the Ascension, you might enjoy this article from the Living Church.)
It is a good discipline to observe weekday feasts. There is currently a conversation online about how the Episcopal Church might revise our calendar to observe these feasts. Should we allow the transference of the Ascension to the following Sunday? Many say it is nearly impossible to get people to come to church during the week. Others state that due to modern day work schedules, many people cannot come to church on Sundays, so churches would be wise to offer weekday feasts as an alternative. One viewpoint in the debate that I found particularly compelling was that churches that expect more from their people grow more. In other words, if you do not expect people to come to weekday feasts, than they will not come. In a society that is forever lowering expectations, how does the church maintain standards of discipleship rather than mere membership?
Ultimately a healthy church worships on weekdays and on Sundays. Decisions have to be made, and on a day such as the Ascension, if we are being faithful to our calling, we will be in church to worship the Lord. Some may choose to do other things, but then let us be clear about what we have chosen. The faith is not a Sunday-only affair - it is our entire way of life. I realize that I am "preaching to the choir" at St. Mark's, as we have worked hard to sustain a culture in which worship and prayer occur all throughout the week. Nevertheless, our society can be very crafty at pulling us away from what is to be the most important in our lives - namely the worship of God.
Today Christ is glorified in the highest heavens, and we are invited to worship Jesus as our true king. We are reminded what the model for true leadership is according to our faith in Jesus Christ. In our own community where there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing, multiple homeless persons suffering from addictions, and now the threat of rising sea levels just down the street, we would do well to follow the model of Jesus' servanthood. Because of Jesus, the crosses of our world can be transformed into Ascension glory and trees of life. This is the beauty of the glorification of Jesus Christ on this day. Christ still reigns from the cross, and he still bears the wounds of human pain, but there is healing in those wounds, and the cross has become a seat of glory, a tree of life rising to the highest heavens.
Finally, throughout Ascensiontide and continuing until Sunday, June 4, the Day of Pentecost, we enter into a time of intentional prayer as initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. (Learn more about this movement entitled Thy Kingdom Come.) We are in the final stretch of the Easter season, and we are being asked to renew our prayer life. Churches throughout the Anglican Communion are offering various ways to gather their people in prayer. In addition to this evening at St. Mark's, we have our regular opportunities for prayer throughout these ten days leading up to Pentecost Day. On Sunday, May 28, at 7:00 pm, we will gather for Night Prayer and Benediction specifically in honor of this global wave of prayer.
Looking back to Easter Day, we stood in awe at the risen Jesus in the garden with Mary Magdalene. Now during these days of the Ascension, we again stand in awe like those early disciples fathoming the glorification of Jesus Christ. We have a beautiful faith and a loving Lord. O come let us worship.