Ascension Day is May 14, 2015

Beginning on the night of April 4 with the Great Vigil and First Eucharist of Easter, we entered the Easter season, a joyful period that included spectacular celebrations on Easter Day (April 5), and has included Festal Eucharists and Festal Evensongs on six additional Sundays in Eastertide. We now approach the last ten days of Eastertide, which are known as Ascensiontide, beginning with Ascension Day itself on Thursday, May 14. We celebrate the Feast of the Ascension with said services at 8am and 12:10pm, and then with a Festal Eucharist, sung by the Gentlemen of the Choir, at 5:30pm. Please join us.

The event of the Ascension marks an end to the “earthly life” of Christ until, as we say in the creeds, “his coming again.” For forty days after the Resurrection, as Saint Luke tells us in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus, “showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs … speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Now, on Mount Olivet, having promised that the disciples would receive power from on high to bear witness to him (an event we celebrate on the Day of Pentecost on May 24), Jesus is taken up into heaven as a cloud receives him out of their sight. This cloud is the shekinah, the cloud of glory involved in divine manifestations from Mount Sinai to the Mount of Transfiguration. So the death of Christ, his descent among the dead, his resurrection on the third day, and his glorious ascension into heaven are all one event. It is an event of cosmic significance: through it Christ has taken his glory to every corner of the universe. There is nothing in all creation that is beyond or outside his saving embrace.

But the Ascension also means that Jesus is not present to us anymore in the same way that he was present in those first decades of the first century. In this middle time between his Ascension and his coming again at the Last Day, we cannot look upon the face of Jesus of Nazareth, nor touch his person directly as some people could in the first century. Instead, Jesus is present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, a holy mystery that we celebrate at Saint Thomas every day of the year. At each service of Holy Communion, we receive “the body of Christ” in the form of bread and wine. Second, Jesus is present as the people of God, also referred to as “the body of Christ.” And, Jesus remains accessible to us through prayer and known to us through Holy Scripture. Therefore it is the job of the Church, animated by the Holy Spirit, to make Christ known to the world in these ways.

You’ll also note on the calendar that the three days preceding Ascension Day are called “Rogation Days.” Historically, Rogation Days were a time of fasting in which people prayed for prosperity and good stewardship: “rogation” comes from the Latin verb rogare, which means “to ask.” For example, here is the prayer for Rogation Wednesday: O merciful Creator, whose hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us, we beseech thee, ever thankful for thy loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Why do Rogation Days precede Ascension Day? It is meet and right that in the days preceding the celebration of Jesus’ Ascension we would pray that we, who are charged with the stewardship of his creation and his Church, would be strengthened to complete the task. We are charged with growing into the full stature of Christ; to become adult Christians who take responsibility for the well-being of the world. We have been charged with carrying out his work, guided by the Spirit.