Author Topic: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide  (Read 25669 times)

J. Thomas Shelley

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Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« on: May 17, 2007, 11:27:24 PM »
One Ascension Day I was making final preparations for the Service in the upstairs workroom when I heard some fluent Pennsylvania Dutch coming from the Narthex.  Knowing that the few of our members who “speachen zie deutsch” were not likely to arrive so early, I supposed that the Dutch was being spoken by a stranger. My supposition proved correct, for there, in the Narthex, was an Amishman complete with straw hat and chinwhiskers along with an “English” companion--his driver, I presumed.  Steven Miller (an Amish convert) had returned to his family homestead and was showing his professor friend the churches of the area.

Steven was very impressed that we were about to have a worship service, for the Amish regard Ascension Day as a great Holy-day on which none but the most necessary of work should be done.  Perhaps this is motivated by fear, for the Ascension Gospel tells us that ‘this Jesus, who has been taken from you, will return in the same manner.” (Luke); which, when juxtaposed with the warning that “on that day two men will be working in the field, one will be taken, and one will be left?” (Matthew) could give rise to the notion that those working on Ascension Day were risking their own personal parousia.  Irrespective, it is faithful.

But Steven also had many questions about how we were worshiping that night, for, of course, the Nave was filled with helium balloons.   The questions were sincere and curious, not sarcastic and critical.  The questions were good because they caused me to reflect on ‘why we do what we do.”

The balloons, on one level, are simply a play on the word Ascension.    A balloon ascension is appropriate for Ascension Day.  The releasing of the balloons is all the more appropriate because the very action causes the worshiper to gaze into the heavens, until the balloon vanishes from sight’ becoming like the Eleven who stood watching their Lord ascend until He was no longer visible.

This is in contrast to the beginning of the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle, the Paschal journey, for, on Ash Wednesday, our eyes are cast down and our heads are bowed.  Forty days prior to Easter we are confronted by the dust of the earth--forty days after Easter we look with joy to the heavens.   Or, as expressed fourth century hymn by John of Damascus:

      From death to life eternal, from this world to the sky
      Our Lord has brought us over with songs of victory .


There is a progression from the solid state of ashes, through the liquid of Baptismal water at Easter, to the buoyant gas that propels the message-bearing balloons. 

Paradoxically, the Paschal journey begins with the substance of a chemical reaction:  Ashes are produced by the burning, or rapid oxidation, of plant material (mostly carbon--which chemistry students will know to be one of most reactive of elements..  The journey ends with balloons filled with a chemical that is “inert” and entirely non-reactive.

The fact that the balloons carry with them a message of Christian hope makes this custom all the more fitting, as the farewell words of Jesus are  that “repentance and forgiveness of sins {are} to be preached to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’  (Another name for Jerusalem is Zion).  How wonderful then, that the prophecy of Isaiah finds a fulfillment by our gathering “the word of the Lord shall go forth from Zion” (Isaiah 2:2)

The message borne by the balloons is simply the blessed hope that is the Epistle for Ascension Day:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you... God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

The message carried by the balloons has been found by persons as far away as Brooklyn, New York; Delaware; Chambersburg; the outer banks of North Carolina and Smithburg, Maryland.  The dispersion of the message calls to mind another couplet from the ancient hymn:

   The day of resurrection, earth tell it out abroad
   The Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.


The message has found persons who are gladdened and encouraged that at least one congregation still keeps Holy-day and remembers  her Lord’s Ascension.   Perhaps, in that way, we are not all that different from our Amish visitor.

May you be among those who keep Holy-day, giving thanks for the hope to which God has called you.
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Dave_Poedel

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2007, 06:09:42 AM »
Thank you, Tom.  We celebrated with a community-wide (high school students, faculty, congregational members) Eucharist in the morning.  Unfortunately, since it is final exams week, there will be more looking down at books and notes than looking up....but then again, wasn' that the angels message?

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2007, 07:45:45 PM »
Unfortunately, since it is final exams week, there will be more looking down at books and notes than looking up....but then again, wasn' that the angels message?

The looking down vs. looking up motif nearly led me to quote some songs from Les Miserables this year, but I demurred knowing that  most of the congregation had not seen that great musical in any form. 

But "Look down, look down" (the opening) is a perfect fit with the beginning of the Paschal cycle; "Empty chairs" draws us to a last supper setting; and when performed with candlelight "Will you join in our crusade?" has unmistakeable allusions to the Easter Vigil.
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Richard Johnson

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2007, 11:34:07 PM »
I had a 3 1/2 hour delay at O'Hare last night (Saturay), and dropped in for mass at the airport chapel. I was interested to learn that in the RC it is an "option" to celebrate the Ascension on the 7th Sunday of Easter. This was also an option in the UMC lectionary when I was a UM pastor, and I generally took it. I see some advantages in it, particularly in communities where there has been no tradition of an Ascension Day celebration. Disadvantages too, I suppose; giving in to the evaporation of the church year and all that. What do you think?
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2007, 12:14:02 AM »
I was interested to learn that in the RC it is an "option" to celebrate the Ascension on the 7th Sunday of Easter. This was also an option in the UMC lectionary when I was a UM pastor, and I generally took it. I see some advantages in it, particularly in communities where there has been no tradition of an Ascension Day celebration. Disadvantages too, I suppose; giving in to the evaporation of the church year and all that. What do you think?

Call me a rabid fundamentalist, but to me scripture is clear that Jesus appeared for 40 days after His Resurrection, not 43--which would be the number if Ascension is transferred to 7 Easter. 

Also call me a rabid traditional catholic; but to me it tears at the very fabric of the universal church if we start exercising these "local options" over what should be a universal calendar.  For example, here in the Harrisburg Diocese Ascension is celebrated on the sixth Thursday after Easter, but not in the Philadelphia Archdiocese to the east nor the Baltimore Archdiocese to the south in which their Cardinals have decreed that the moveable Feast shall in fact move a bit further.

In Das Seibenthal we had exactly one-third of our average Sunday attendance present on Thursday evening; a ratio which has slowly improved through the years.  So too has the number of helpers to prepare the balloons; this year there was so much help that the task was completed in 40 minutes rather than the full hour or so in years gone by; providing an unexpected "sabbath" for meditation before the liturgy.

Yes, it is countercultural to try to assemble a sizeable congregation on a weekday.  But I believe that it is part of catechetical obligation to instruct by example that "church" happens on certain days other than Sundays.

Moreover, the Seventh Sunday of Easter should feel slightly like a Sunday in Advent....a time of expectation, awaiting, and anticipating.  Indeed, because today's Epistle refers to Christ as the Morning Star we sang the Niccolai chorale Wie Schorn...

The Seventh Sunday of Easter  is a bit awkward because the Lord has departed  but the promissed Comforter has not yet arrived.  How can we proclaim Christ as present even in that vaccuum if we simply skip from the Ascension celebration to the Pentecost celebration?    My argument parallels that of the framers of the 1978 calendar and liturgy who brought the reading of the Passion to Palm Sunda
« Last Edit: May 01, 2008, 12:03:50 AM by Rev. J. Thomas Shelley, STS »
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2007, 08:06:20 PM »
Call me a rabid fundamentalist, but to me scripture is clear that Jesus appeared for 40 days after His Resurrection, not 43--which would be the number if Ascension is transferred to 7 Easter. 
Acts 1 talks about the 40 days that Jesus presented himself as alive to them before the Ascension.

Luke 24 has the Ascension on the same day he rose from the dead after two appearances.
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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2007, 10:29:49 PM »
Call me a rabid fundamentalist, but to me scripture is clear that Jesus appeared for 40 days after His Resurrection, not 43--which would be the number if Ascension is transferred to 7 Easter.
Acts 1 talks about the 40 days that Jesus presented himself as alive to them before the Ascension.

Luke 24 has the Ascension on the same day he rose from the dead after two appearances.

Since Luke is the author of Acts it is unlikely that one who sought to present "an orderly account" to Theophilus would intentionally create an irreconsilable contradiction.  Even if he did, and even if the Ascension occurred on the Day of Resurrection, it did NOT occur 43 days afterward.  The options for celebrating the Ascension according to Luke are day one or day forty.
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peter_speckhard

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2007, 11:04:29 PM »
We have services every Thursday evening and Sunday morning, so last week I told the Thurday crowd that instead of them doing Sunday on Thursday as usual, this week the Sunday crowd would be doing Thursday on Sunday since we were doing Ascension for both. Among the many things I'm a huge fan of in theory are pure liturgical practices like no Christmas decorations during advent, Epiphany on Jan. 6 regardless of the day of the week, and Ascension separate from Easter 7. I'm also a big fan of eating right and exercising in the sense that I'll cheer for anyone who does it.

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2007, 11:23:26 PM »
Peter,

As one who is swimming upstream in keeping Ascension Thursday I'm glad that you are cheering from the riverbanks.
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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2008, 05:50:05 PM »
As we approach Ascension Day 2008 I am saddened to think that this might well be the final year for the balloon launch.  One of the consequences of Hurricane Katrina and the global petrochemical crisis is that the price of Helium has risen more than the price of gasoline--up 180 percent from a year ago. 

The local welding supply story which had been donating the helium can no longer afford to do so--their donation is that we can obtain the small cylandir at cost, which is $55.00---and much better than the over $100.00 price that would be full retail.

As the Pennsylvania Dutch say, "Ja well, so gates"
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Michael Slusser

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #10 on: April 30, 2008, 06:57:06 PM »
I was interested to learn that in the RC it is an "option" to celebrate the Ascension on the 7th Sunday of Easter. This was also an option in the UMC lectionary when I was a UM pastor, and I generally took it. I see some advantages in it, particularly in communities where there has been no tradition of an Ascension Day celebration. Disadvantages too, I suppose; giving in to the evaporation of the church year and all that. What do you think?

In the U.S., the ecclesiatical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and Omaha (!) observe the feast tomorrow (Thursday). The other U.S. provinces shift the observance to Sunday, so more of the people can observe it. It ordinarily gives me the chance to ask, when we read that "a cloud took him from their sight," "What cloud? Have we seen this cloud before?" And of course one can go all the way back. I'm missing that this year, because I am flying to Germany to attend the beatification (solemn declaration that she is among the Blessed) of Margarethe Flesch, an orphan who from girlhood dedicated herself to caring for the poor and for children, was joined by a couple of others, and at the age of 39 discovered herself the foundress of a community of Franciscan sisters. She died in 1906 after 28 years of internal exile within her order (ugly story); well, if they did what they did for her own spiritual good (as they said), they seem to have succeeded. Anyway, in Trier, where I'm going, they celebrate the Ascension on Thursday.

Consequently, I won't celebrate it at all this year, as the Mass I offer tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. for our traveling party will be an ordinary Easter-season Mass, and on Sunday it will be the Seventh Sunday in Eastertide. Go figure!

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Michael
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Weedon

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2008, 09:59:40 PM »
We still hold Ascension Day Mass on Ascension Day.  It's such a beautiful liturgy - and I especially love the preface:

...and in their sight was taken up into heaven that He might make us partakers of His divine life.  Therefore...

The Schalk hymn (Hymn of the Day) is also stunning - especially with this line:

Death destroying, life restoring,
Proven equal to our need.
Now for us before the Father
As our Brother intercede;
Flesh that for our world was wounded,
Living, for the wounded plead!

Dave Benke

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2008, 10:23:03 PM »
There are perhaps five regional Ascension Eucharists in the Atlantic District and of course many in local parishes as well.  The regional celebrations have been observed for a couple of decades.  Well attended and festive - God is gone up with a shout, hallelujah!  I'll be in Albany tomorrow for one such Eucharist.

On Ascension, 2003, a hymn was dedicated to me at Zion Lutheran in Schenectady.  Entitled "Lord of the Universe", the music is by Ralph Schultz, words by Dorothy Schultz.  Dr. Schultz conducted the choir in the inaugural performance at a packed sanctuary two weeks after my suspension from the clergy roster of the LCMS was lifted.  I have the autographed dedicatory original framed above the piano in our living room.

Dave Benke

Weedon

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #13 on: April 30, 2008, 10:49:13 PM »
I enjoyed singing under Ralph.  He is a gifted and loving man - as is his wife.

My favorite translation of that Psalm you cite is Coverdale's:  "God has gone up with a merry noise; the Lord with the sound of the trump."  A merry noise!  Beautiful.

deaconbob

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Re: Keeping Holy-day at Ascensiontide
« Reply #14 on: May 01, 2008, 10:57:18 AM »
Our conference (Bronx) will be celebrating Ascesnion Thursday jointly this evening. I offered to drive some of our members from our church to the host church, but thus far no takers ( I know of one fine gentleman who is driving himself). I lament that my home congregation "ASCENSION" will again not be celebrating today. My children, 17-15-10 and a 13 yr old neice, all of whom attend RCC schools are off today...Dad's off to the Bronx....kids are home...shame on me.
Blessings,
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