Thursday, May 25, 2017
The abuse of a holy day. . .
The Ascension of our Lord, like Epiphany, was once a major holy day on the Church's Calendar. It still is, in theory. In practice, not so much. Rome has, at least in most dioceses, decided that Ascension will be forgotten unless it is observed on a Sunday. Only the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha and Philadelphia, which cover 10 states, mostly in the Northeast, have not transferred the Ascension to the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The rest of the country celebrates it on Sunday. Lutherans are not far behind. The numbers of parishes observing Ascension continues to decline and with it the attendance. But not here.
We have two Divine Services, morning and evening, and together their attendance comprises about a third of Sunday morning's average attenders. While some are reducing the focus on Ascension, we are trying to expand it and restore its faded glory. In large measure, the point is theological. The presence of the Lord is now in Word and Sacrament. With His Ascension He is present with us in the means of grace, where He has placed Himself and where He has made Himself and all His gifts accessible. When we point to where Jesus is, we do not point to some cloud in the sky above but to the Word and to the Sacraments. Here is where Christ is and by these means of grace He fulfills His promise to abide with us that we may abide in Him. Here is where He continues to deliver to a people in grave need the fruits of His atoning death and life-giving resurrection. Here is where the Church gathers, not with faded memory or feelings or ideas but with the concrete splash of water that gives new birth, the tangible voice that speaks absolution and our sins fall away, the taste of bread and wine that feed us His flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all sin. Ascension is key to this. He has not left us nor forsaken us (as He said He would not) but His presence is enlarged so that He may fulfill this promise everywhere. Otherwise we are left like the disciples so long ago -- scratching our heads wondering what this means. Their joy at returning to Jerusalem was the joy of a people who have been catechized in the Word, who by the power of the Spirit trust the promise, and who see no more by the blinders of the eye but by faith. God give us such joy!