One of the most often overlooked days in the entire Christian year is sneaking up on us. It happens next Thursday. But unless you live in a land that treats it as a public holiday – there are still a few that do – it might slip under your radar. Yet, without the event marked by this day, the church could not have come into being as it did.
I’m talking about Ascension Day.
It often sneaks under the radar of most followers of Jesus because it always falls on a Thursday. Some churches celebrate it the Sunday before or the Sunday after, but Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday. Why? Because it happened 40 days after the resurrection of Jesus, and when you add 40 days to a Sunday in the spring, you’re always going to land on a Thursday.
But what was “it”?
It’s the day Jesus ascended into heaven.
Why does it matter?
Well, among many other things, had Jesus not ascended into heaven, the promised Holy Spirit would not have come. And the church as we know it would not have been born.
Ascension Day is a good day to celebrate! It’s the day when Jesus gave his Great Commission. And as the disciples followed that Great Commission, ten days later, the Holy Spirit fell on the believers at Pentecost, and the church came into being, spreading across the world, over time, into the vessel of God that brings the gospel to the nations.
The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about what happened in those 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus. But it surely involved much preparation for the disciples to be ready to venture forth on their own, with the promised Holy Spirit’s guidance, to build the Kingdom of God.
When the ascension happened, it inaugurated a new era – an era in which we still participate today.
So next Thursday, give a wink and a nod – or more! – to the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, and give thanks for his providential care.
“So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
– Acts 1.6-11, NLT