What is remembered on Ascension Day?
Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection – when he came back to life after being crucified. But the gospel story does not end there. The next chapter comes on the day known as ‘Ascension Day’. It is the day when Christians believe Jesus returned to heaven. This is really important for Christians, as it tells them that Jesus is alive and ruling with God the Father and the Holy Spirit as one person of the Trinity.
Christians celebrate Ascension Day forty days after Easter and it commemorates Jesus leaving his disciples to take his rightful place with God. The gospel writer Luke in his second book, Acts, states that the disciples saw Jesus offer many “convincing proofs” that he was alive in the six-week period following his resurrection. Jesus had told the disciples not to leave the city of Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift that his Father had promised: that of the Holy Spirit. On the first Ascension Day, the disciples were with Jesus outside Jerusalem but were still confused about his mission. They asked him when he would restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus told them. He told them,
“You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.” (Acts 1:7-8 – The Message).
As he was still speaking, Jesus began to disappear into a cloud. The cloud was an important symbol to the Jews. It had been the sign of God’s presence when the people of Israel had left Egypt in the Exodus. It had become the way of talking about God – he was in the cloud, mysterious, not completely knowable by humans, he was holy.
Ascension Day is important for Christians because it is further proof to them that Jesus is more than a man, but God himself and deserving of praise and worship. One of the earliest Christian teachers, St Paul, told early followers that:
‘God lifted him (Jesus) high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:9-11)