Thursday, May 5, 2016


Christi Himmelfahrt

Online information writes that Christi Himmelfahrt, the annual observance of Christ’s ascension into heaven, is a national holiday in Germany, one report says since 1936, which was during the Third Reich. 

I cannot vouch for any of that, but apparently there are walks out in the countryside and festive communal meals. 

We don’t make such a celebration about it, though Ascension Day forty days after Easter Day is always today, Thursday, and one of the seven Principal Feasts (BCP 15) of the church year. 

The event is chronicled two places in Scripture, both by the anonymous writer we call “Luke” who gave us the Gospel according to Luke and the book of the Acts of the Apostles.

Luke’s two accounts are slightly different. Both take place just outside Jerusalem, one (Luke 24) the evening of Easter Day, 

the other (Acts 1) after forty days. 

This painting is Salvador Dali:

Anyone accustomed to reading Bible accounts, even by the same author, isn’t bothered by seeming discrepancies that alert the skeptic, 

but didn’t bother the writer or his audience, and don’t bother modern Christians except Literalist Inerrantists who may be thrown thereby into convulsions of rationalization.

We have an enormous collection of art imaginatively depicting The Ascension, all of it quite pious, some of it stirring smiles. 

A prominent Lutheran theologian, my theology professor at seminary chuckled, even chortled telling us about paintings of the “disappearing feet” he had seen in Europe. 

As a sometime amateur astronomer earlier in life, I also can be amused, chuckle, having peered into “the vast distance of interstellar space” (Eucharistic Prayer C, BCP 370) and lacking the worldview of first century people who saw the firmament (sky) as a dome and somewhere above and outside it water and perhaps above the water the dwelling place of God. 

In my sophomoric sophistication, I can laugh, but two thousand years hence (assuming we humans do not bring down the end of civilization and earth), humans will look back at what I believed and roar with laughter, so what the hell do I know.

I can rationalize The Ascension with St. Paul’s view of “the spiritual body” that evaporated as it faded from sight, but it isn’t necessary to do that and (counter to the Collect), “like as I do not necessarily believe” I rather enjoy the story as it is. 

The stories as they are, including Luke’s inconsistency (scroll down, way down). And I love the Himmelfahrt Christi art that is found around “Christendom” 

Some of the paintings include a woman in blue, who is Jesus’ mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary 

Collect for Ascension Day

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do
believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have 
ascended into the heavens, so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Luke 24 The Ascension of Jesus
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Acts 1New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Promise of the Holy Spirit
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension of Jesus

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

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