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Happy Ascension Day

The Ascension Day cards have been signed, addressed, stamped and taken to the Post Office. Ascension decorations sit atop both the fireplace mantle and the dining room table, and Ascension Day desserts of blue Jello with clouds of whipped cream interspersed have been prepared for Thursday’s dinner.

Just kidding.

We don’t give Ascension Day much attention. I could use the weak excuse that I’ve no cultural support for celebrating Ascension, as I have for celebrating both Christmas and Easter. I did call my brother and wish him “Happy Ascension Day.” He returned the greeting. That was the extent of my celebrations.

Ascension Day is one of the principal festivals in our Lutheran Church ranking in stature with Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. Ascension Day commemorates the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven celebrated on the 40th day of Easter.

Luke writes that after Jesus “opened their minds to understand scriptures…that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed …. (Jesus) then led (his disciples) out as far as Bethany and…blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:44-56)

Luke continues the story writing in the book of Acts (Acts 1) that suddenly two men in white clothing show up and shout to the disciples “Men of Galilee! Why do you stand looking up into heaven?”

The question issued by the two men in white clothing is at the heart of Ascension Day celebration and is a question addressed to us today. “Why are you looking up into heaven?” Are we mesmerized as were the disciples, letting days slip by as we await Jesus’ return in power, his second coming? If so, we’ve completely missed Jesus’ first coming. The two men in white clothing are warning us not to ponder brilliance ascending or descending from the heavens but give witness to divine love ruling here and now. Keep your minds trained on understanding scriptures; proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins here and now. Set aside fear, bow no longer at the altar of bombs and missiles, guns and money, fame and fortune.

Hanging around the resurrected Jesus, the disciples were initially clueless and confused. They still expected Jesus to restore a national monarchy, to reestablish Jerusalem to its former glory. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters today are like the disciples on Ascension Day, wanting to make America a “Christian nation.” Many a preacher seduced by the siren call of power issue calls to establish a Christian monarchy in the United States, ignoring Jesus’ warning at the final judgement. (Matthew 25) “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

If we find ourselves clueless and confused, as were the disciples in the days after Jesus’ resurrection, let these days between Ascension and Pentecost be days of preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Stop gazing, let’s no longer “stand looking up” but instead let the Holy Spirit open our minds to understand the scriptures and live a life of repentance and forgiveness, a life blessed and graced by divine love in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our community and our nation.