May 21st, 2020 is Ascension day, not one that I grew up with or one that many protestants are familiar with. This is the fortieth day after Easter Sunday and we are celebrating the ascension of Christ into heaven. You will find the Biblical accounts of the Ascension in Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:6-11.
The day is also, and in some ways more importantly, a celebration of the new creation that Jesus’ resurrection brought into being. It seems such an appropriate celebration for those of us who are interested in sustainability and creation care. I prefer to focus on this imagery because so much of the language of ascent seems to focus more on the triumphalism of a militaristic parade rather than the ascent of a servant king whose advocacy will restore and renew all things.
In Sweden people go into the woods very early in the morning to hear the birds at sunrise. It is said to be good luck if a cuckoo is heard from the east or west. What beautiful imagery to carry with us for the rest of the season until Pentecost. I think this would be a wonderful tradition to incorporate in our Ascension Day celebrations. Go out into the woods, your local park or even the beach early in the morning. Listen to the birds singing the dawn chorus. Notice the beautiful sound that rises like a stream of praise and worship to God.
I do not want to deny the exultant triumph of our risen Lord and the freedom his ascent has brought us. For the disciples this must have been an amazing day. They knew Jesus was alive. They knew he was the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, the long-promised Messiah. They knew that they would see him again when he returned, as he had assured them that he would, at the end of time and the day of resurrection. They knew that he still loved them, simply because he appeared to them after he rose from the grave and, most importantly, he had entrusted his mission on earth to them. They had begun to comprehend the nature of God’s love and power; so should we.
Ascension Day customs
Various customs are associated with this day. In England, processions used to take place with a banner at the head showing a lion and a dragon at the end, symbolising Christ’s victory over the devil. In some churches the Ascension was re-enacted by lifting the figure of Christ through an opening in the roof of the church.
The Chapel of the Ascension in Walsingham, Norfolk, shows Jesus’ feet projecting from the ceiling.
Another English tradition – beating the bounds – the reaffirming of parish boundaries is a great to reaffirm, possibly as a prayer walk so think of adding it to your Ascension Day observances.
Ascension Day Resources
Celebrating Ascension Day at Home
Most of the resources listed below can also be used or adapted for your at home worship on Ascension Day.
Paul Neeley Resources
A couple of years ago I posted this very comprehensive and helpful list from Paul Neeley for Ascension day. Here are a few more resources he has added since:
- Ascension Reflections (sonnet, song, painting, litany, theology & more!)
- 4 Ascension Artworks from India
A couple more of my own prayers:
Here are some more of my favourite resources:
The United Methodist Church has some great resources. I love the exultant note of this prayer from Rev. Marilyn E. Thornton the Lead Editor for African American,
One: Let us gather as they gathered on the Mount of Olivet.
Let us remember the teachings of the law, psalms, and prophets.
Many: Ride on King Jesus, no one can hinder you!
Here is another from the reformed tradition With A Shout
And this by David Diephouse who teaches history at Calvin College
Our God goes up with shouts of joy!
Our Lord ascends to the sound of trumpets!
All: Sing praises to our God, sing praises!
Sing praises, sing praises to our King!
The Almighty rides in triumph.
The Almighty leads captivity captive.
Who shouts for joy? Who blows the trumpet?
The hosts of heaven sing the honor of his name;
they praise him with an endless alleluia.
And this prayer from the Catholic service for Ascension Day
God our Father,
make us joyful in the ascension of your Son Jesus Christ.
May we follow him into the new creation,
for his ascension is our glory and our hope.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Here is a good set of videos/loops from re:Worship.
Here are some more images of the Ascension:
Obviously there are lots of other great resources out there too so if you have found something that is particularly helpful please leave a link in the comments below.