Wednesday 20 May 2020

On the Ascension (and Being Creatures of the Calendar)

The below is an excerpt from an email written for the congregation where I am one of the pastors.

It’s become something of a joke that many of us have lost our sense of time through this period. As someone posted on Facebook a few weeks back, ‘for those who have lost track, today is Blursday the fortyteenth of Maprilay’!

It’s been a reminder of how much we live according to the rhythm of particular calendars. Whether it’s school terms, the football season, summer holidays, or planting the vegetable patch, we are calendar-driven creatures.

As it happens, God made us this way. It’s not long after Noah and his family emerge from the ark that God reaffirms the creational pattern of ‘seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night’ (Genesis 8:22). The Israelite year was punctuated by moments to remember what God had done in saving his people and his ongoing provision for them – Passover, harvest, tabernacles, and so on.

Beyond Christmas and Easter, those of us in free churches don’t tend to pay much attention to Christian festivals. But fellow Christians in other church traditions are far more alert to the changing seasons of the Christian calendar, and they often find their walk with the Lord enriched as a result of reflecting on where we are now in the year.

In any case, all of this is introductory burble to say that tomorrow (Thursday 21 May) is Ascension Day. I wonder if you’ve ever marked it before? We tend to bundle Jesus’ ascension with his resurrection as a single event, but they were separated by nearly six weeks, and Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated on the 40th day after Easter Sunday. (Yes, it’s really 40 days since Easter!)

The early disciples knew this, because they lived through those days. So, Peter is clear on the Day of Pentecost that the climax of what God has done in Jesus is not the resurrection, but Jesus being ‘exalted to the right hand of God’ (Acts 2:33), fulfilling the hopes expressed in Psalm 110 of the Messiah taking his seat at the right hand of the Lord.

If the resurrection affirms that Jesus lives forever, the ascension confirms that he reigns forever. And Jesus’ ascension opens up a new era in God’s dealings with his people and with the world – the era of the giving of the Spirit, the era of Jesus’ ministry as our heavenly High Priest, the era of God’s mission to all nations, the era of hope for what will be when Jesus returns just as he left.

All that is worth marking – and pondering – not least during these times in which we live.

Coming back to where we started, it’s perhaps also a reminder that the church calendar at its best changes the way we experience time and understand reality. It’s all too easy for me to to map my year onto the calendar of the dominant cultural reality, whether that be sports, holidays, or education – important though they are. But part of ‘numbering our days’ in order to ‘gain a heart of wisdom’ (Psalm 90:12) is to live according to a more ultimate reality – one that marks time with the coming of Christ as the fulfilment of Israel’s hopes and his coming again at the renewal of all things.

All of which is to say, Happy Ascension Day!

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