On May 13th, the 40th day after Easter, the church will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of Christ.
In the revised common lectionary, this year’s Gospel for that Thursday is from the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 24, beginning at the 44th verse. Chapter 24 begins with Easter Sunday and moves quite quickly through to the Ascension, and it tells the story of the two apostles on the road to Emmaus, their encounter with the risen Christ, and Christ’s eventual being made known to them in the sharing of a meal. The two apostles hurry back to Jerusalem to tell their friends what they have seen (Jesus having disappeared after being revealed), and then Jesus appears there too, and eats some fish to show that he is resurrected and not an apparition. It is immediately after this that Jesus leads his followers out to Bethany, and then is lifted up into the heavens.
In the Book of Common Prayer, the lesson for Ascension Day is from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1, and here we specifically hear that Jesus appeared to his apostles for 40 days following his resurrection, and that he spoke to them of the kingdom of God. Jesus told them to be witnesses of him both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world. As he was speaking, he was taken up and received into a cloud. They were then given assurance that Jesus will come again, even as he had then ascended from their sight.
Christ’s ascension into heaven, and the fact that it was witnessed, is important to us as Christians, because of the assurance that Jesus is alive, and has gone to sit at the right hand of God as an advocate and representative for us.
May we all have a holy and joyful Ascension Day this year!