The Sunday after the Ascension
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The church year begins with the season of Advent, which means that for nearly the first half of the church calendar we anticipate and celebrate the coming of Christ and his life, ministry, death, and resurrection here on earth. Although we affirm in the creeds that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father, the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Eastertide direct our focus to Immanuel, Christ with us, Jesus living amongst us on earth.
But today we remember Christ’s ascension, next week we celebrate Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit, and then we enter the second half of the church year: ordinary time.
Ordinary time takes its name from the ordinal numbers that mark the weeks after Pentecost — the first Sunday after Pentecost, the second Sunday, etc. — but it’s also an ordinary season, a season for growing and working and living in this in-between space separating the resurrection and the return of Christ.
This rhythm of the church year balances waiting, feasting and simply living, reflecting the tension of Christianity. We celebrate the coming of Jesus and we anticipate his return, but in the midst of that we also live and work in this world now, existing in the already and not-yet kingdom of heaven.
As we live in this tension, however, the Ascension can feel like loss.
Surely it must have felt like loss to Jesus’ companions, who had seen Jesus leave them once before; no wonder that they anticipated his second coming within their lifetimes. It can also feel like loss to us today, two millennia later, like an empty house after the guests have gone or a return to daily life after the excitement of travel. The waiting and the celebrating are over, leaving a gap in our lives.
Today’s collect reminds us, though, that we are not left alone or left comfortless.
Jesus has been exalted to heaven, but as he promised his disciples he is sending the Holy Spirit. And through the work of the Holy Spirit, we have the hope that one day we, too, will be exalted to be with Jesus forever.
And so on this Sunday, between the Ascension (celebrated last Thursday) and Pentecost, we can take time to transition from the highs of Eastertide into ordinary time. Jesus has ascended and we remain here on earth, but he promises that we will one day join him and, until then, we have the Holy Spirit with us.
As we meditate on the ascension of Jesus, then, let us also anticipate the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives during the coming months of ordinary time. May the Spirit comfort and sustain us as we go forth into the world and live our lives as the people of God.
Sarah Lindsay has a Ph.D. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and she spent four years teaching at a small Christian college in the south before relocating to the Chicagoland area, where she now lives with her husband and three young daughters. As she transitions out of academia, Sarah is finding new avenues for her writing. She loves encouraging and empowering women in the church, and she also loves using her training as a scholar of the middle ages to expose people to the rich historical background of Christianity.
Sarah has written for Christians for Biblical Equality [CBE]’s publications Mutuality and Arise, and her blog is IntoResurrection.com. She is also on Twitter @drlindsay.