Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
“‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’”
Today is Ascension Day, a feast we would not celebrate if we did not have the Acts of the Apostles. There are many ways that we can think about the meaning of Jesus’ ascension. One of my favorite interpretations comes from the second verse of Hymn 182, Hymnal 1982, by contemporary hymn writer, Brian Wren:
Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
he comes to claim the here and now
and conquer every place and time.
The ascension is not just about Jesus going to reign with God in heaven. It is about Jesus breaking out of the time/space continuum to be present everywhere at all times. That may have something to say about us as well.
The three days before Ascension Day are Rogation Days, when we pray for fruitful seasons. An old British tradition on those days is “Beating the Bounds,” when people from a church process around the perimeter of a parish (the town or geographic area for which a church is responsible), beating the boundaries with a willow stick to make sure people know where they were.
The feast of the Ascension calls us to be both more parochial and less parochial in our congregations.
Most Episcopalians think of their parish as the church building and the people are members of the congregation. But we can be more parochial by thinking of the town or city that our church is in as our parish—the place and community we are called to care for. Missional theology is a new term for seeing that our ministry is to be in the parish beyond our church, not inside it.
Ascension also calls us to be less parochial, if by parochial we mean having clearly defined boundaries circumscribing our membership and ministry. We may not be able to break the space/time continuum, but we can break through old ways of doing things. We can create partnerships and networks with other Episcopal churches, congregations of other denominations or other faiths, or organizations in our area, in order to increase our ministry. We can dream of new ways to engage the communities and world around us.
Working on this blog, I see that many of our churches are already doing this in creative and life-giving ways: having a prayer walk in the neighborhood; having midweek classes that include people from nearby congregations; welcoming homeless people into their churches; exploring the possibility of a joint congregation with a Lutheran church; doing Ashes on the Go; and many other ways. We can do this because Jesus Christ is with us and empowering us.
May the ascended Christ free us and guide us in our pilgrimage!
What does Jesus Christ’s ascension mean to you?
(The stained glass window of the Ascension is at St. Clement & St. Peter’s Church, Wilkes-Barre.)