Monday, May 5, 2008

He ascended into heaven!

Lest it pass entirely and get lost in Pentecost reflections, I wanted to note the Evangelical Feast of Ascension, which would have been properly celebrated on May 1, 40 days after Easter. During those 40 days following the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples, teaching them and showing how all the scriptures – Law, Writings, Prophets – spoke about himself. These days climaxed with his dramatic ascension to heaven, taken up in clouds (a powerful biblical symbol of God’s glory).

The continental reformers, busy tossing out all kinds of liturgical accretions, maintained what I have heard called the Evangelical Feasts. That is, the celebration of actual events clearly from the life of Jesus, found in the Bible. An altogether evangelical commitment, I should think. We can pinpoint Easter, because of its connection to the Passover. And we have the actual count of days for Ascension and Pentecost. We believe these things happened, so let’s let them inform our worship of our glorious, risen, ascended, Spirit-sending Savior!

A hymn to mark Ascension:

The head that once was crowned with thorns
is crowned with glory now;
a royal diadem adorns
the mighty Victor’s brow.

The highest place that heaven affords
is his, is his by right,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
and heaven’s eternal light.

The joy of all who dwell above,
the joy of all below,
to whom he manifests his love,
and grants his name to know.

To them the cross with all its shame,
with all its grace, is given,
their name, an everlasting name,
their joy, the joy of heaven.

They suffer with their Lord below,
they reign with him above,
their profit and their joy to know
the mystery of his love.

The cross he bore is life and health,
though shame and death to him:
his people’s hope, his people’s wealth,
their everlasting theme!

Thomas Kelly, 1820

Ascension hymns are sometimes “filed” under Jesus Christ: His Reign. Other good hymns to mark the day and occasion include: Charles Wesley, “Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise,” and “Rejoice, the Lord Is King” (when he had purged our stains he took his seat above); and William Dix, “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus” (though the cloud from sight received him when the forty days were o’er/shall our hearts forget his promise, ‘I am with you evermore’?)

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