On wallflowers and kite-flying

Today is the greatest wall flower Christian celebration of all time and yet one of the most powerfully hopeful days – Ascension Day (admit it, you missed it, didn’t you?).

I love this day for all sorts of reasons: it is the culmination of Christ’s ministry, it is the next stage of God’s mission, and it tells us one of the most life-changing truths of our faith, that there is now a human being residing within the Trinity.  Think of it – one of the members of the Trinity has opposable thumbs, DNA strands, blood and a nose.  And so, the ascension of Jesus – very human, very God – is our guarantee that one day we, too, will know and enjoy the beauty, grace and love that inhabits the Trinity.  It’s the life we were always meant for.

And one final reason to love Ascension Day?  It’s the one Christian holiday that has no parallel celebration, historically or culturally.  It flies completely under the radar of our culture, and therefore isn’t likely to be commercialized or commodified.  It might be the purest Christian holiday to celebrate.

Listen to N.T. Wright on this:

Jesus is Lord – This, of course, is the great truth that Christians celebrate in the Ascension. Jesus is exalted as the Lord of the cosmos, supreme over all the powers. It is perhaps significant that this is virtually the only Christian festival that has no pagan analogue, and which has not been taken over by the pagan materialistic forces that wreak havoc with Christmas and Easter. The shops do not fill up with Ascension presents, nor can you buy cards saying ‘”Happy Ascension to my Dear Granny.” Perhaps (although it would be risky) Christians should begin to celebrate the Ascension more explicitly. Presents or cards might be exchanged, but preferably homemade and symbolic ones, not ones that merely reinforced the prevailing materialism. There is room for new family festivals to be created around this season, parallel with Christmas or Easter celebrations but taking care, again, to avoid collapsing back into paganism. Here is scope for imagination and experiment. (N.T. Wright, Bringing the Church to the World)

So how to celebrate Ascension Day?  Well go find a worships service near you.  And if those are in short supply, try this great Ascension day practice – go fly a kite.  Gather up your kids, or your child-like spirit, and set a kite to flight.  Watch it flutter and unfurl in the wind, catch sail and soar in the sky.  Imagine what it must’ve been like for those disciples doing just what you’re doing, gawking up into the sky.

And then hear the question of the angel: “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?”  It’s a “don’t just stand there” missional question because the ascension thrusts the church on its mission, announcing and inaugurating the reign of Jesus in the whole world.

So go fly a kite already.

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  1. #1 by Jim Pot on May 17, 2012 - 2:55 pm

    Great comments on Ascension Day, Phil. Thanks for helping me think through some of my own thoughts about the amazing truth of having one of our own kind seated in the highest place of honour. Brings back memories when I was a pastor in Alberta: for a few years we hosted what was dubbed “Carnival for the King,” a supper hour/early evening event in our outdoor courtyard. Simple bbq, kids games, and worship concluded with a helium balloon send-off. It was a bit of a sell to the traditional crowd, though for a time, we were decently successful getting interest from young families. Alas, all good things came to an end: the balloons, though each stuffed with an ascension related note, were deemed environmentally threatening; the courtyard vanished due to a building renovation; and our targeted audience eventually gave higher priority to Thursday night soccer games. Trying to come to grips with what might have the optics of failure, I reasoned that Ascension celebration might still occur… that is, if faithful families were building positive relationships with other soccer parents and kids instead of sticking to their own tribe; if the renovation project to which the courtyard succumbed made room for greater opportunity for good conversation and heightened sensitivity toward hospitality; …and the balloon thing? While I genuinely try being environmentally conscientious, my cause for celebration isn’t related to decreasing levels of latex landing in some Central Albertan farmer’s field. Rather, this: Instead of sending anonymous notes about King Jesus into the air, we’re called to embody his message. Even more than devoting special attention to Ascension Day, is our call to pay tribute to King Jesus, 24-7. Maybe N.T. Wright is onto something that it’s not so terribly horrible that this Christian Holy Day has no secular holiday counter-part. Maybe exactly this can keep us from merely gazing into the sky. For this year at least, no Ascension Day service for me tonight, not even a Carnival for the King. Preparing supper for the family and then wisking away to bring my daughter Shannon to soccer practice. Happy, no I mean Merry, no, All Hail King Jesus—Our Maker, Redeemer, our Master, …and Friend!

    • #2 by phil on May 18, 2012 - 6:56 am

      Jim – nice ideas for Ascension Day. You know how to have some fun. It’s that sort of creative imagination for celebration that we continue to need as we appropriate these high Christian events in our context of North America.

  2. #3 by Jim Pot on May 18, 2012 - 10:10 am

    Ha! Go figure: Turns out Shannon had a concert/recital at school, so even soccer practice got the boot last night. Was good to hear a mention of Ascension at the concert though. No time for kite-flying, though the skies were probably too calm around here last night.

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