An appeal for Ascension: talk about it, pass it on

“Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?” This is more than a question, even today, for us. Ascension is a reminder for Christians to take on responsibility—not to stand still, but to be underway on behalf of the gospel.

Ascensio Domini, the ascension of the Lord, is observed on the fortieth day after Easter and ten days before Pentecost. That is why this festival always falls on a Thursday. It has been like this since the fourth century. The forty days after Easter go back to the testimony recorded by Luke: “The Apostles … to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1: 3). Both Luke and Acts recount how Jesus—who had risen from the dead on Easter and had spoken to His disciples several times—had been carried up into heaven before their very eyes and a cloud received Him out of their sight (Luke 24: 51; Acts 1: 9).

The Council of Nicaea defined the fortieth day and cast the theological significance of Christ’s ascension into its confession of faith: “He … was buried, and on the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.”

Christians need to be autonomous

Ascension is a reminder for Christians to be autonomous. Their Lord and Master is no longer among them—visibly. At the time, the Son of God gave power to His Apostles: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1: 8–11).

Christians take on responsibility

The Apostles were not to stand there and just gaze up into heaven. They were supposed to carry out their mission and go into the world and preach the gospel. This mission still applies to all Christians today. Make an effort for the gospel—that is the message that Ascension sends. Not because of Christ’s presence, but despite His absence. As disciples of the Lord, filled with His Spirit, let us proclaim the glad tidings of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord. As Christians we need to take on responsibility in this world and be witnesses for Jesus Christ, always ready to make a defence when anyone challenges us, as Peter formulated it (1 Peter 3: 15).

And we have to wait until the Lord returns. Faith in Ascension is faith in Christ’s return. Jesus, who was taken away, will come back as He ascended into heaven. With this another promise will be fulfilled: death – Resurrection– Ascension – Christ’s return.

Photo: magann - Fotolia

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Peter Johanning
Christian holidays, Ascension