Today is the 40th day of Easter. Although no longer a significant day for most of the world the Church still recognizes this day as Ascension Thursday. I read an article recently where the author called it the “forgotten festival” because in the last couple of decades fewer churches observe the Festival of the Ascension with a service. I know we had church in Bristol in the old days!!
The Ascension of Our Lord tells us that Christ is working in and through his church by the ministry of the gospel. The accounts of the Ascension that St. Luke gives us, both at the end of his gospel and at the beginning of Acts, show Christ preparing his disciples for the mighty ministry that the church will undertake once he ascends.
While writing this reflection a dear friend sent an article on messenger from the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center. How timely! I learned that the Pennsylvania Dutch celebrate the day calling it “Himmelfahrt,” but there too things have changed and now only the Plain Communities, the Old Order Mennonite and Amish continue the observance. In these communities now as in the past there is a general prohibition against work. That is a hard sell in communities committed to hard work, however, there was a belief, more accurate a fear, that working on the day brought divine wrath upon the offender.
So still in those communities and “for previous generations, going to church was about the only thing one could safely do on Ascension Day, aside from two other afternoon activities: gathering medicinal herbs, and going fishing. The belief was that if one made a tea of nine or seven herbs on Ascension Day, it would protect health throughout the year.” The fishing being permissible may have to do with the biblical association of fishing being the occupation of the disciple who were then responsible for telling the story of Jesus as part of the great commission. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Perhaps you recall that in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed we say we believe in Jesus who “ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father almighty.” We say it but we no longer bother observe the event.
Ascension Day is forty days after Easter, but it is also ten days before Pentecost. And here Jesus is promising his disciples that he will pour out upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit, which he would do ten days later on Pentecost. Ascension points us to Pentecost and the Spirit’s empowering of the church’s ministry.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, your only Son was taken into the heavens and in your presence intercedes for us. Receive us and our prayers for all the world, and in the end bring everything into your glory, through Jesus Christ, our Sovereign and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. [Prayer of the Day for Ascension of Our Lord, ELW p. 35]
The Rev. Ellen Meissgeier