". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ascension Day

Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, the day on which liturgical Christian churches traditionally celebrate the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. (Some churches shift their observance to Sunday, but since the Ascension occurred 40 days after Jesus' Resurrection, Ascension Day falls each year on a Thursday and is most properly celebrated on that day.)

For my congregation Ascension Day has particular significance due to the fact that we take our name (Bethany) from the village near which Jesus ascended:

"Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven."--Luke 24:50-51

It is perhaps for this reason that we are motivated to make our Ascension observance extra festive, but considering the significance of this event for the Christian Church it is disappointing that more Christian congregations don't give the day special attention. Many let it pass with only glancing recognition, while others don't consider it at all. Even my local Roman Catholic diocese transfers the celebration to Sunday. But I really like what we do at our congregation, turning Ascension Day into a grand festival with particular attention paid to helping the children of our parish grasp the overflowing joy and awe rightly felt by Christians on this day. Following is a brief description of our tradition:

The celebration began right after school with activities for the children. They decorated an Ascension Day banner, created handmade instruments, and learned some Ascension music to sing for the service later in the evening. There was also some outside play time (luckily the weather cooperated). While the children were occupied, parents enjoyed appetizers and conversation in the gym. At 5:15 everyone lined up for a parade around the church grounds. Leading the way was our processional cross, followed by the pastors carrying the Ascension banner. As they marched, the children rattled their noisemakers and blew on their horns. Periodically the parade halted as Pastor proclaimed "We see Him now ascending" to which all responded "Alleluia!" After circling the grounds, everyone gathered in the sanctuary for Divine Service. The celebration wrapped up with a congregational dinner. Here are a few photos of the parade:

The procession begins.

Our adult choir.

Cantor with the children's choir:

Parents & others welcome the marchers as they wind up the parade.

There is a bittersweetness to this day that for me was most pronounced as I watched the extinguishing of the Paschal candle at the conclusion of the Gospel reading (signifying Jesus' bodily departure from this world). I think of the followers of Jesus and try to imagine the indescribable combination of sadness and joy they must have felt as they watched Him disappear into the Heavens. Yet I like them take comfort in the Saviour's words as He leaves us with His Holy Spirit and the promise of His presence in Word and Sacrament:

"Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."--Matthew 28:20


elephantschild said...

Thanks for the pictures!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful celebration...wish I could have been there.