As the Fifty Days of Fabulous Easter come to a conclusion, the mysterious and inimitable Maple Anglican has a video which answers the perennial question, “What is Pentecost?”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. Luke 24:50
If I were making a big budget Hollywood film of the Gospel according to Luke, I would definitely include this scene. The special effects could be stunning, and you know all those Renaissance artists who painted the Ascension would be totally jealous. Jesus could rise up, not unlike Superman. And the soundtrack! Wow.
But of course, for those of us who seek to follow Jesus today, the special effects are a distraction at best. I’ve heard people dismiss Ascension Day as quaint, if not pointless. After all, this thinking goes, we know that science doesn’t work that way. Never mind that we’re talking about Jesus after the resurrection. That is, the non-zombie back-from-the-dead defying-every-law-of-science Jesus. So why not ascend into heaven?
When I say the special effects are a distraction, what I really mean is that it’s the wrong way to frame the question. The right question is now how, but why? Several years ago, I read a meditation by, I think, Sam Portaro, that highlighted the blessing aspect of Ascension Day. Jesus offered a blessing that day in at least two ways. First, he lifted his hands and blessed them. Even more than this, his very departure is a kind of blessing. You see, when Jesus left his followers, he showed a great deal of trust. Jesus’ departure demonstrated that he trusted them — and us — to continue his ministry. Jesus trusts us. Trust is a blessing.
Perhaps the point of Ascension Day is that the burden of ministry shifts to us to carry on Christ’s work, equipped and inspired by the Holy Spirit. We can’t do this on our own, of course, but by God’s grace we can.
When we celebrate Ascension Day, we are not celebrating special effects or dramatic departures. Rather, today we are celebrating the fact that Jesus has given us the gift of trust and the joys of carrying on his ministry. Party on!
Think about a time someone blessed you by giving you their trust. Try passing along that blessing to someone else — trust someone. Oh, and try out the idea of carrying on Jesus’ ministry. Offer healing, hope, freedom, redemption, or new life to someone. You won’t be able to do it on your own, but you have lots of divine help.
Tomorrow is Ascension Day, the 40th day of Eastertide. Maple Anglican has made a helpful video, “What is the Ascension?” You might want to hang your computer screen from the ceiling while you watch this video for a more realistic “Look up!” experience.
Enjoy this video, keep shouting out those alleluias, and check out Maple Anglican’s oeuvre.
Happy Eve of Ascension Day!
Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day,
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin:
And having harrow’d hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean wash’d from sin,
May live for ever in felicity.
And that thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love thee for the same again:
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.
–Edmund Spenser (c. 1552 – 1599)
The last few weeks I’ve been preaching hither and yon across the country, sharing in Easter joy with congregations of various shapes and sizes. This year, thanks to this website and to my travel schedule, I’ve had a very fulsome opportunity to reflect on and to celebrate Easter.
Of course, it’s commonplace for preachers (including this one) to point out that there is a wondrous mystery lurking behind the lilies and jellybeans. The whole point is that God’s life defeated death, that hope defeated fear. But, like a young child, let’s ask an obvious question. Why? Why did God raise Jesus? Why did Jesus do all the things he did and say all the things he said?
Edmund Spenser gets it right. It’s about love. The problem is that “love” has been hijacked by Valentine’s Day, romance novels, and big budget movies. Easter love is nothing like any of that.
Easter love is fearless. Easter love is seemingly impossible. It is relentlessly hopeful. It isn’t fair and balanced. It is grace-filled, not transactional. Easter love changes lives. It changes everything.
Easter love, the kind of love that Jesus taught us, is how we are meant to live. God harrowed hell itself so that we might be freed from captivity, so that we might live as people of hope. The why of Easter is, I think, at least as amazing as the what and the how of Easter.
What would our church look like if we actually practiced Easter love? How might our world change? How might our own lives change?
Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.
With these words, clergy and laity will gather for the Great Vigil of Easter, marking the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter. For Saturday evening and Sunday morning, we will sing Alleluia, marvel at the flower arrangements, hear the story of frightened, courageous women and an empty tomb, and rejoice with the Resurrected Christ.
And then most of us forget.
Not intentionally, I think. We’ve endured 40 days of Lent, seen our Lent Madness bracket blown apart by Frances Perkins, and participated in our parish Lenten programs. Some of us have given up coffee, taken on more prayer time, and waited for Easter. Forty days is a long time, and we’ve put energy into being penitential and spiritual for Lent.
So we celebrate Easter Day…and we’re done.
But why? It’s like taking hours upon hours to get ready for the big party and then staying at the party of the century for 10 minutes. Really? Why not celebrate?Why not stay at the party? Why not see what joy and life lessons this season can bring?
Why not fully celebrate the Fifty Days of Easter?
Welcome to 50 Days of Fabulous, a way to engage the season of Easter beyond just one day. Each day of the Easter season, which is, if you haven’t guessed yet, a full 50 days (10 more than Lent), is a day to celebrate rebirth, light, resurrection, surprise, joy, and the triumph of life over death. In the daily reflections, based on scripture, saints, art, music, and whatever else inspires our fabulous contributors, we hope to invite our readers into this amazing party that is the Feast of the Resurrection. Each day also has a response. Our faith is not a faith of reading something and thinking, “How nice.” Our faith is a faith of proclamation, action, prayer, and response. Easter implores us to proclaim the resurrection, and we will offer you some simple, profound, and even quirky ways to do so.
We invite you to join us in the amazing party that is the Great Fifty Days of Easter. We’ve spent Lent getting ready. Now it’s time to celebrate Light and Life.
The party is about to start.