National Day of Prayer, or Ascenion Day?

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).

For a good critique of the National Day of Prayer, check this post out from Don over at Blog from the Capital.

Well, that’s all for now.  Have a blessed Ascension Day.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

3 thoughts on “National Day of Prayer, or Ascenion Day?

  1. Chris, Ascension Day liturgy is something I desperately miss in this country. When I lived in the Holy Land, all the congregations of Redeemer Church (German, English speaking, Danish, and Arabic) would meet in the afternoon on the Mt. of Olives behind Augusta Victoria Hospital for a picnic lunch (brown bag), then we would have worship. The hymns would be sung in the various languages at the same time and it was beautiful. That was where I became a Lutheran. I was shocked that Lutherans here pay so little attention to this day. You are a liturgist after my own heart, Chris.

  2. Actually, until a family funeral intervened, my pastor volunteered himself to be the facilitator of a local National Day of Prayer gathering — just to be subversive. It’s something for other mainliners with an attitude to consider doing.;-)

  3. I was a co-facilitator of the National Day of Prayer events last week working along side the Baptist pastor in town. One thing to be careful of is that the NDOP is not all strictly about patriotism (even though we do pray for our nation and leaders). But we also pray for families, school (specially for our students and teachers), the media (that they may be a positive influence), the Church (to stand firm), etc. I think having a day when people across denominational lines can gather together to pray is a good thing. I don’t see this as an “ill-advised blend of patriotism and religion” and this is not about “merging patriotism and the practice of faith”. The NDOP is a time to pray…plain and simple.

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