Today is Ascension Day, when the church remembers Jesus’ ascension into heaven. I was hoping to write a reflection on Ascension Day – a day that I love in theory but have never celebrated liturgically – but my plate is too full, my desk too messy.
Briefly, I think celebrating the Ascension is essential, because it is intimately connected with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and – perhaps most importantly – to his promise to return to Earth (ie, the Second Coming). Jesus’ promised return will inaugurate the "resurrection of the dead" (which we confess in the creeds) and the Kingdom of God (for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer). This promised Kingdom of God – described in countless parables and prophetic images – is our Christian hope, it is the future into which we are called to live today (see my post All Saints, All Souls, and the Return of Christ for more about my understanding of life, death, and the "after-life."). It seems to me that our Christian life is largely shaped by what was (Jesus’ death and resurrection) and what will be (his return and the promised Kingdom of God).
So, I was a bit surprised to see a local Episcopal church advertise on their sign not an Ascension Day service but a service for the National Day of Prayer. Since when did an ill-advised blend of patriotism and religion trump the liturgical calendar, especially for our otherwise liturgically astute Episcopalian friends? I’m all for praying for our nation – heck, we do it every Sunday in the Prayers of the Church – but this dedicated National Day of Prayer goes too far in merging patriotism with the practice of faith. (I blogged about the dangers of blending prayer and government in Christian Prayers in Government Chambers: Music to the Devil’s Ears. Two years ago I wrote a few pieces about faith and patriotism around Memorial Day. Here are two of them: Praising God, Honoring Country, More Thoughts on God & Country).
Well, that’s all for now. Have a blessed Ascension Day.