[Jesus said:] But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
Thursday, May 25, is the Ascension of Our Lord. It is one of my favorite festival days of the church year. However, few congregations in our synod, or anywhere else for that matter, will celebrate Ascension Day with worship. There are some that will observe the Ascension this coming Sunday, bumping the seventh Sunday of Easter from the calendar. But I suspect that most will simply not observe it at all.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Amish communities in North America, who typically mark the day by closing their businesses and not doing field work, focusing instead on family gatherings and reunions. For the rest of American society, however, it is just another day.
I also learned recently that many Christian churches in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, hold a ten-day prayer meeting on the evenings between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday.
It’s been three years since I last preached an Ascension sermon. But I vividly remember the first time. It was on May 5, 2005. The Canton ministerial association that I was a part of held an ecumenical Ascension service each year and the preaching assignment was usually given to the least experienced preacher, which happened to be me.
It was an evening service and – in case you didn’t catch the date – it was also Cinco de Mayo. As you can imagine, there were more people in bars than were in church on that festive evening. To make matters worse, there were more clergy in the service than there were worshippers. Eventually, that ecumenical celebration was discontinued and, you might add, with good reason.
Our society has shaped our worship instead of the other way around. History has shown us that as both Christmas and Easter became more commercialized, they gained a major grip on our consumer culture. The religious tie-in has benefited both church and the economy. It leads me to wonder that if marketing experts could ever find a way to commercialize Ascension, our churches might be filled beyond capacity!
But on a more serious note, I think the observance of this great ecumenical feast gets shoddy treatment, when you take into account that the writer of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts thought this event worthy of narrating twice. And week after week, on Sunday after Sunday or whenever we gather, we recite the words of either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed and we repeat the line, “He ascended into heaven.” It rolls off our lips with little difficulty and I would guess, with little thought given to the meaning of those words.
Without the ascension of Christ, we would not have the Holy Spirit with us. Without the Spirit, we cannot be who we are and are called to be as people of God; sent by the Spirit to be the Body of Christ in the world. Blessed to be a blessing, we are partners in God’s mission by the power of the Spirit!
Tuesday morning, May 23, I will gather with the rostered ministers of the Canton-Massillon Conference to worship and fellowship and discuss the state of the synod. Normally, these gatherings are held in the fall, but circumstances delayed our meeting until now.
Saturday, May 27, at 1 p.m., I will be at Christ Lutheran Church in Struthers for a service of Farewell and Godspeed for Pastor Paul Burgeson. Though retired, Pastor Burgeson has served as Interim at Christ several times over several years. He has now decided to move to Delaware, Ohio, to be closer to his family. I personally will miss Pastor Paul. He was my chaplain during the bishop election process three years ago and has served the synod faithfully whenever asked and in whatever capacity. As he has been a blessing to us, we now send him to be a blessing to others.
Because of the Memorial Day Holiday, next week’s Monday Musings will be published a day late. Since we can’t think of a catchy title, we’ll call it Monday Musings—the Tuesday Edition.
In the meantime, may the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you. [adapted from Ephesians 1:17-18]
+Bishop Abraham Allende