The Feast of the Ascension is forty days after Easter and ten days before the Day of Pentecost. It was once one of the major celebrations on the liturgical calendar. It is hardly even noticed in many protestant Churches, but remains a significant day in Anglican and Roman Catholic circles. Although, I’m not sure when the last time it was commemorated on the day itself at St. Paul’s. We have, occasionally, transferred it to the following Sunday.
Ascension Day is, as the name suggests, the day that the Church remembers the ascension of the Christ. It is when the disciples witness the resurrected body of Jesus Christ rising up and going into heaven.
Now a-days, the version of the story that appears in scripture create a slight problem for us. We’ve been there… we’ve traveled in airplanes and rocket ships and have ascended beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Our telescopes can see way beyond this solar system and way beyond this galaxy. We have been to and looked past where the Bible suggests heaven is. That’s a problem, albeit a slight one.
If we follow the logic of the story telling: Jesus was born; he taught and healed; he was arrested and crucified; he died and was buried; he was resurrected and continued to teach his followers; but he’s not with us in that way now. So, he must have gone and ascended into heaven (wherever that may be); and taken his place at God’s right hand.
The Gospel writers had no other way to express the change or disappearance expect to say that Jesus ascended. There was Biblical precedence, after all both Elijah and Job were said to have ascended.
The Gospel writers can be forgiven this one, if our experience doesn’t match (on the surface) our experience of space. The point isn’t how Jesus went but that he went. Our lot, in terms of our journey in faith, is not to have the personal experience of the Apostles but to take their testimony and the tradition we’ve received and to partner with them and with God to call this world to the love and justice we and all of creation is meant to enjoy.