Happy Ascension Day

Today is Ascension Day, the 40th day after Easter, commemorating the day on which our Risen Lord ascended into Heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father Almighty.

It’s odd that the significance of Christ’s ascension is taken in two opposite ways: The Reformed say that it means Christ is ABSENT, no longer on earth, so that His real presence in the sacrament is impossible. Lutherans say that it means Christ, at the right hand of Power, His human nature assumed into the Holy Trinity, can now be omnipresent, so that He CAN be on every altar.

Ascension Day used to be a hugely important day in the church year. How can we bring it back?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Richard

    For starters, by having church services on this day. By emphasizing what Christ is doing for us in the heavenlies through his ascension to the Father. We have lost this theology–as I write this I’m listening to the cantatas Bach wrote in celebration of Christi Himmelfahrt, which is still observed in Germany. What a theology the Reformers had of this day!

  • Richard

    For starters, by having church services on this day. By emphasizing what Christ is doing for us in the heavenlies through his ascension to the Father. We have lost this theology–as I write this I’m listening to the cantatas Bach wrote in celebration of Christi Himmelfahrt, which is still observed in Germany. What a theology the Reformers had of this day!

  • Matthew Christians

    In my ministry, I’ve steadfastly resisted the urge to switch Ascension to the 7th Sunday in Easter… and have always had a service on the actual Thursday where Ascension falls. I’m sure no one would be surprised if I mention that attendance has never been very good. I’m pastor to a dual-parish in central Wisconsin and between the two churches, we have maybe 500 members (about 350 of which are fairly active… in church at least once a month or so). We have about 40 who attend the Divine Service on Ascension Day, as contrasted to an average of about 200 on Sundays. I guess I’m pessimistic; I don’t see any way to increase this attendance on a weekday; people just aren’t interested because Sunday is the “God day” and the “rest of the week is mine.” Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. I’ll just keep educating, encouraging, inviting, and rejoicing in those who come.

  • Matthew Christians

    In my ministry, I’ve steadfastly resisted the urge to switch Ascension to the 7th Sunday in Easter… and have always had a service on the actual Thursday where Ascension falls. I’m sure no one would be surprised if I mention that attendance has never been very good. I’m pastor to a dual-parish in central Wisconsin and between the two churches, we have maybe 500 members (about 350 of which are fairly active… in church at least once a month or so). We have about 40 who attend the Divine Service on Ascension Day, as contrasted to an average of about 200 on Sundays. I guess I’m pessimistic; I don’t see any way to increase this attendance on a weekday; people just aren’t interested because Sunday is the “God day” and the “rest of the week is mine.” Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. I’ll just keep educating, encouraging, inviting, and rejoicing in those who come.

  • Bror Erickson

    Hey if could get fourty to show up on a Thursday I would have worship too. But I have a feeling I’d be guilty of private communion….

  • Bror Erickson

    Hey if could get fourty to show up on a Thursday I would have worship too. But I have a feeling I’d be guilty of private communion….

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  • Bryan Lindemood

    Tonight, Divine Service is planned and hopefully there will be more than just the organist, the elder, and me. If that’s the case we may forgo communion and I will share the Bible readings and my sermon with those few in attendance. Hopefully we will have over 20 and all enjoy the Divine Service together. For the wonderful gifts that are ascension day, we must as Matthew Christians does, keep patiently “encouraging, inviting, and rejoicing in those who come.”

    Its like how I want my congregation to want Every Sunday Communion (we do every other Sunday), I’ve been teaching its importance for many years now but the congregation is still resistant (Argh!!). But I’ll still keep teaching and encouraging and hopefully the congregation will come around to understanding the importance of weekly worship through the Divine Service in God’s time. It sure is hard to be patient though.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Tonight, Divine Service is planned and hopefully there will be more than just the organist, the elder, and me. If that’s the case we may forgo communion and I will share the Bible readings and my sermon with those few in attendance. Hopefully we will have over 20 and all enjoy the Divine Service together. For the wonderful gifts that are ascension day, we must as Matthew Christians does, keep patiently “encouraging, inviting, and rejoicing in those who come.”

    Its like how I want my congregation to want Every Sunday Communion (we do every other Sunday), I’ve been teaching its importance for many years now but the congregation is still resistant (Argh!!). But I’ll still keep teaching and encouraging and hopefully the congregation will come around to understanding the importance of weekly worship through the Divine Service in God’s time. It sure is hard to be patient though.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Bror, I think you ought to hold services for Ascension Day or at least tell all your parishioners to come to my Church for the goods :)

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Bror, I think you ought to hold services for Ascension Day or at least tell all your parishioners to come to my Church for the goods :)

  • http://thebookbeast.blogspot.com Darren

    I agree with the “service on Thursday” idea. Unfortunately, I’m usually the one in our church who schedules any special mid-week services (so far, we’ve done All Saints’ Day and Candlemas), and I was out of town and unable to plan for it. Next year!

    Our church is also doing a novena to the Holy Spirit as a congregation. Our pastor emailed it out yesterday, and we will be praying that during the days between Ascension and Pentecost.

  • http://thebookbeast.blogspot.com Darren

    I agree with the “service on Thursday” idea. Unfortunately, I’m usually the one in our church who schedules any special mid-week services (so far, we’ve done All Saints’ Day and Candlemas), and I was out of town and unable to plan for it. Next year!

    Our church is also doing a novena to the Holy Spirit as a congregation. Our pastor emailed it out yesterday, and we will be praying that during the days between Ascension and Pentecost.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I think Christians should try to do something help put Ascension Day in the culture. Anybody know anyone at Hallmark? A card about How Christ’s ascension means God can be and is closer to you than you can imagine. With a nice comforting visual of warm soup – you know, along the lines of Luther’s argument for the real presence of Christ in the sacrament . How we know He can really be there, where He has promised to be for forgiveness because by His ascension he is even be present in your soup!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I think Christians should try to do something help put Ascension Day in the culture. Anybody know anyone at Hallmark? A card about How Christ’s ascension means God can be and is closer to you than you can imagine. With a nice comforting visual of warm soup – you know, along the lines of Luther’s argument for the real presence of Christ in the sacrament . How we know He can really be there, where He has promised to be for forgiveness because by His ascension he is even be present in your soup!

  • Matthew Christians

    Darren talks about having midweek services for things like All Saints. At our congregation, we don’t go that far. We always have a Divine Service on the chief festivals of the Church year: Christmas, Easter, Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, as well as every Sunday :) In addition, we host non-communion Midweek services during Advent and Lent and have services on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunrise. I think if I tried to add more midweek services for lesser festivals like All Saints, Reformation, , St. Mark, or the like, I’d face a revolt!

  • Matthew Christians

    Darren talks about having midweek services for things like All Saints. At our congregation, we don’t go that far. We always have a Divine Service on the chief festivals of the Church year: Christmas, Easter, Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, as well as every Sunday :) In addition, we host non-communion Midweek services during Advent and Lent and have services on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunrise. I think if I tried to add more midweek services for lesser festivals like All Saints, Reformation, , St. Mark, or the like, I’d face a revolt!

  • Ryan

    Our Weekday services include Epiphany and Ascension plus midweek Advent and Lenten services. As Matthew Christians says “if I tried to add more midweek services for lesser festivals like All Saints, Reformation, , St. Mark, or the like, I’d face a revolt!”

    I’m excited about Ascension, the more I learn of the day and its meaning the cooler it gets.

    I live near an amish community and one of my church’s members who works for the amish noted that they have “weird days off that normal people don’t like Ascension Day” I said great!, we celebrate that too see you thursday night. He looked a bit surprised. :)

  • Ryan

    Our Weekday services include Epiphany and Ascension plus midweek Advent and Lenten services. As Matthew Christians says “if I tried to add more midweek services for lesser festivals like All Saints, Reformation, , St. Mark, or the like, I’d face a revolt!”

    I’m excited about Ascension, the more I learn of the day and its meaning the cooler it gets.

    I live near an amish community and one of my church’s members who works for the amish noted that they have “weird days off that normal people don’t like Ascension Day” I said great!, we celebrate that too see you thursday night. He looked a bit surprised. :)

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    Our church does an event one Wednesday in Lent. About 30 people showed up this year, but it was great! We also have about 250 regular members, even though there are 500 on the books. I am glad that we share the Meal every Sunday. It’s actually one of the reasons I became a Lutheran. I was starving to death at those once-in-a-blue-moon Baptist churches.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    Our church does an event one Wednesday in Lent. About 30 people showed up this year, but it was great! We also have about 250 regular members, even though there are 500 on the books. I am glad that we share the Meal every Sunday. It’s actually one of the reasons I became a Lutheran. I was starving to death at those once-in-a-blue-moon Baptist churches.

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  • FW

    Actually the implications between Lutherans and reformed go deeper I think.

    Robert Capon, an episcopalian, catches this by describing God´s presence as that of an iceberg beneath the water that is ever present and becomes occasionally visible above the surface. This is the sacramental idea really well described.

    He decribes the reformed view as being sort of like a sewing machine needle that descends and perforates time and space and then recedes again to be distant rather than ever immanent.

    I believe this is exactly why the reformed think of God´s relation to evil and to his creation as more adversarial and as a great battle.

    Lutherans can see, in the incarnation especially, as God being in communion with His creation while at the same time never being at risk of conflating creator with creature/creation or being neo-amimistic in even the slightest way.

    Lutheran poetry vs a certain Reformed urgent need for the imposed structure of rules also becomes rather evident….

    Yes. Ascension Day is something Lutherans would be good to try to reclaim for so many reasons.

    I would be most interested to hear your thoughts on how all of this might affect one´s view of vocation Dr Veith! John Milton´s “..to serve my Maker and present my true account …”worker bee calvinism vs……..what exactly….

  • FW

    Actually the implications between Lutherans and reformed go deeper I think.

    Robert Capon, an episcopalian, catches this by describing God´s presence as that of an iceberg beneath the water that is ever present and becomes occasionally visible above the surface. This is the sacramental idea really well described.

    He decribes the reformed view as being sort of like a sewing machine needle that descends and perforates time and space and then recedes again to be distant rather than ever immanent.

    I believe this is exactly why the reformed think of God´s relation to evil and to his creation as more adversarial and as a great battle.

    Lutherans can see, in the incarnation especially, as God being in communion with His creation while at the same time never being at risk of conflating creator with creature/creation or being neo-amimistic in even the slightest way.

    Lutheran poetry vs a certain Reformed urgent need for the imposed structure of rules also becomes rather evident….

    Yes. Ascension Day is something Lutherans would be good to try to reclaim for so many reasons.

    I would be most interested to hear your thoughts on how all of this might affect one´s view of vocation Dr Veith! John Milton´s “..to serve my Maker and present my true account …”worker bee calvinism vs……..what exactly….

  • LAJ

    One way to bring people to an Ascension service is to have all the children of the congregation or school sing! That’s what happened on Ascension Eve at our church. There still weren’t as many in attendance as could be, but more than 40. The children sang beautifully.

  • LAJ

    One way to bring people to an Ascension service is to have all the children of the congregation or school sing! That’s what happened on Ascension Eve at our church. There still weren’t as many in attendance as could be, but more than 40. The children sang beautifully.

  • Mark

    I presided and preached at Holy Communion this evening in our little congregation.

    I recently re-read a very good article by David Yeago, from the spring ’97 edition of Pro Ecclesia, “Messiah’s People: the Culture of the Church in the Midst of the Nations”. He argues that main-line churches seek validation from the surrounding culture in the “‘ceaseless crisis of legitimation’”, instead of seeking the Lord and His Kingdom, His own ‘culture’. And he has this telling footnote about liturgies that are sparsely attended:

    “…from the time the church first had buildings for worship until sometime in the modern period, it seemed too obvious to need argument that the church, being the kind of community it is, would hold worship in them each day, even if few of its members had leisrue to attend. By contrast, mainline clergy almost universally assume that it is somehow wrong, a culpable waste of time, to persist in offering a service of worship unless enough people how up to ‘make it worthwhile’. Market-share confers legitimacy; what does not successully appeal to the consumer has no right to go on.”

    I have been guilty of the above. But we are not to be conformed to the pattern of this present world and so renewed in our minds. We are called to honor the Lord, even if there are so few. By the way,I printed 12 bulletins for this evening and that’s how many we needed. It seems that the attendance at the Ascension on Bethany was probably all of 12.

    Keep the Faith.

  • Mark

    I presided and preached at Holy Communion this evening in our little congregation.

    I recently re-read a very good article by David Yeago, from the spring ’97 edition of Pro Ecclesia, “Messiah’s People: the Culture of the Church in the Midst of the Nations”. He argues that main-line churches seek validation from the surrounding culture in the “‘ceaseless crisis of legitimation’”, instead of seeking the Lord and His Kingdom, His own ‘culture’. And he has this telling footnote about liturgies that are sparsely attended:

    “…from the time the church first had buildings for worship until sometime in the modern period, it seemed too obvious to need argument that the church, being the kind of community it is, would hold worship in them each day, even if few of its members had leisrue to attend. By contrast, mainline clergy almost universally assume that it is somehow wrong, a culpable waste of time, to persist in offering a service of worship unless enough people how up to ‘make it worthwhile’. Market-share confers legitimacy; what does not successully appeal to the consumer has no right to go on.”

    I have been guilty of the above. But we are not to be conformed to the pattern of this present world and so renewed in our minds. We are called to honor the Lord, even if there are so few. By the way,I printed 12 bulletins for this evening and that’s how many we needed. It seems that the attendance at the Ascension on Bethany was probably all of 12.

    Keep the Faith.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    We had 12 too. hmmm.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    We had 12 too. hmmm.

  • Joe

    We had about 35-40. That is in line with our mid-week Advent services and less than our mid-week Lenten services. Sunday attendance is usually around 140. We have always taken the view that we should have the services whether people will show up or not. We do try to get the start time “right” to make it as easy as possible for our members to make it.

  • Joe

    We had about 35-40. That is in line with our mid-week Advent services and less than our mid-week Lenten services. Sunday attendance is usually around 140. We have always taken the view that we should have the services whether people will show up or not. We do try to get the start time “right” to make it as easy as possible for our members to make it.

  • Richard

    Mark, Bryan, Joe, and LAJ, bless you! Would that there were more faithful pastors such as you! Indeed, keep the faith!

  • Richard

    Mark, Bryan, Joe, and LAJ, bless you! Would that there were more faithful pastors such as you! Indeed, keep the faith!

  • Nancy

    For the second year now our circuit of 10 churches has held a joint Ascension service at the largest church in the circuit. We celebrate Holy Communion with all the pastors participating, special music with choir and bell choirs. Fellowship with light refreshments follow the service. It is a wonderful opportunity for all sister congregations to come together for a very uplifting service and fellowship. The pastors want it to become an annual celebration.Attendance is very good.

  • Nancy

    For the second year now our circuit of 10 churches has held a joint Ascension service at the largest church in the circuit. We celebrate Holy Communion with all the pastors participating, special music with choir and bell choirs. Fellowship with light refreshments follow the service. It is a wonderful opportunity for all sister congregations to come together for a very uplifting service and fellowship. The pastors want it to become an annual celebration.Attendance is very good.

  • mark h.

    We also made it a circuit celebration. We had 5 congregations, 2 mission plants. We had all the pastors and choirs participate, Dr. Reed Lessing preach. We had Thrivent and LWMLs provide ice-cream and invited all our Sunday School children to particpate by launching balloons 15 minutes before the service. At 6:30 they all processed in and we sang “Do you know who died, rose, lives for me..Jesus did, Jesus did (does).” After a short children’s message on Ascension day we continued with the regular Divine Service. We had about 400 in attendance. It was a grand celebration – Word, Sacrament, music, ice-cream, children and balloons!

  • mark h.

    We also made it a circuit celebration. We had 5 congregations, 2 mission plants. We had all the pastors and choirs participate, Dr. Reed Lessing preach. We had Thrivent and LWMLs provide ice-cream and invited all our Sunday School children to particpate by launching balloons 15 minutes before the service. At 6:30 they all processed in and we sang “Do you know who died, rose, lives for me..Jesus did, Jesus did (does).” After a short children’s message on Ascension day we continued with the regular Divine Service. We had about 400 in attendance. It was a grand celebration – Word, Sacrament, music, ice-cream, children and balloons!


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