A few Sundays ago was Pentecost, which is the last Sunday of the Easter season. Yes, Easter is not one day it is a season. There are three significant Sundays in the Easter season, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. While all Christian churches celebrate Easter and many celebrate Pentecost, fewer celebrate Ascension Day. Theologically speaking all three days are important and together the three days offer a more full expression of the Christian faith.
Easter, of course is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is the event which marks the ultimate defeat of sin and death. By raising Jesus from the dead, God confirms Jesus as messiah.
Pentecost is often called the birthday of the church. This day marks the day when the Holy Spirit was given to the gathered disciples in a unique way. Recall that people with many different languages were present and each one heard the gospel in their own language. After that day following the Messiah Jesus was no longer only a Jewish practice but was for all people regardless of who they were.
There is, of course, more than can and should be said about Easter and Pentecost. And then there is Ascension Day.
What do you think Ascension Day is about?
Ascension Day marks Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Right so far. But what does that mean? Sometimes, influenced by less that stellar art, we think Ascension Day is about Jesus’ leaving earth and floating off to heaven leaving the disciples (and us) behind until Jesus returns. But Ascension Day isn’t so much about Jesus leaving earth to go somewhere else as it is about Jesus’ ascension to the throne as king of heaven AND earth. The Ascension isn’t about Jesus going off and abandoning us. It is more like Jesus relocated to become ruler over all that is. Ultimately heaven and earth will be joined into the full creation God intends. That is why in the Lord’s prayer we say, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The triune God rules in heaven and will and does rule on earth.
I want to suggest that rather then three separate days, we think of the movement from Easter to Ascension to Pentecost as a trajectory that tells us something important.
Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost.
Sin and death defeated, Jesus is king over heaven and earth and the Spirit births the church, the universal, all encompassing kingdom of God now present on earth. The kingdom is not fully present and certainly not present perfectly. But the Easter season gives us a glimpse of how the story will unfold. Not with death and destruction, they will be no more. The future contains resurrection. The future has a ruler whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. A ruler who loves us and calls us friend. This kingdom includes everyone. No matter what country you came from, no matter who you are, you are included in the kingdom of God. Good news indeed.