Fifty days of glory: from Easter morning to the eve of Pentecost, by Mark Pearson (Creation House, 2014)
I am re-reading the marvelous book of my friend the Rev. Dr. Mark Pearson Fifty days of glory. In this book Fr. Marc explores the days between the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Growing up as a non-liturgical Christian (in the accepted sense – every denomination has its own liturgy, whether they call it that or not!), I haven’t given much thought to what is called the Fifty Days of Glory. Easter was the big bang! Christ is risen from the dead! And, not being a charismatic or Pentecostal believer at the time, Pentecost was recognized but not deeply celebrated. What happened in the meantime, and what does it mean? A little!
This Thursday, May 26, was Ascension Day. Pr. Marc devotes two chapters of his book to the Ascension of the Lord. Most churches that observe Ascension do so the following Sunday and do not have an actual service on Ascension Day. So we actually have time to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s Ascension the following day, in preparation to enter more fully and with more understanding into the praise and adoration of Jesus’ glorious departure.
Chapter ten of P. Mark’s book is “Rescuing and Defending the Celebration of the Ascension”. He notes that most churches are closed on Ascension Day or may have a service with a handful of people. What shocked me even more was to read that you “will not find any reference to Ascension Day in Eerdman’s book. Christian history textbook or even a footnote in Williston Walker A History of the Christian Church.
We repeat every Sunday in the Nicene Creed: “He ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father. . . We also say this in the Apostles’ Creed. But Pearson quotes JG Davies, professor of theology at the University of Birmingham, as saying: “Of all the articles of the Creed there is none which has been so neglected in the present century as that which affirms the Ascension of our Lord in heaven.
Pearson offers a few possible reasons why Ascension may be overlooked:
- Ascension Day is always a weekday. But Christmas is often a weekday, and in most churches, Pearson says, “Christmas services are the busiest services of the year.”
- Non-liturgical Protestants once removed most holy days from the church calendar – even Christmas – as being, gasp!, “Papist.” But the Book of Common Prayer “gives it priority status as the main feast in Anglicanism. . . adds Pearson.
- There is no secular parallel culture like with Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Pearson says: “Unless a congregation goes out of their way to mark Ascension, unless there’s a skit or the release of balloons to give a sensory illusion (Yikes! We’d definitely be in trouble for this gesture today!), there is nothing to help people anticipate this holy day or get excited about it when it arrives. »
But these are not the only possible reasons. Pearson continues with other more difficult explanations:
- Is the Ascension ignored because “it’s clearly about Christ and not, at least obviously, about me?” In a time of seeking blessings and prosperity, mutual aid and self-esteem, this makes a lot of sense. Pearson says “The Ascension speaks of Christ in glory, and the emphasis is on Him.” He goes on to explain that the “twist of the Christian faith” centered on me is nothing new. The risen Christ spent his 40 days after the resurrection “discussing basic themes with his closest followers”, but still, on the eve of his ascension, they “focused on the political restoration of Israel” (Acts 1:6)!
- Or maybe, says Pearson, we don’t “celebrate” the Ascension because that would be celebrating Jesus leaving us. “We don’t want him to go any more than Mary Magdalene did when she tried to hold on to him,” Pearson says.
- The next possibility digs even deeper. Pearson questions “why the Ascension is generally ignored because it means we have to focus on the Holy Spirit, who will come after Jesus is gone, and many who believe and love Jesus Christ are skeptical of the person and work of the Holy Spirit? He explains that such people “might love order and control so much that they don’t want to focus on the Holy Spirit, who, like the wind, blows where the Spirit wills (John 3:8).” Or such people, he says, might have been frightened of the Holy Spirit “by the excesses of some who call themselves Pentecostals or charismatics.” So they think it’s best to “focus on Jesus’ teaching, His atoning work and bodily resurrection and leave it at that.” It reminds me of a quote from Evangelist Mario Murillo who says that for some people the Holy Trinity is “the Father, the Son and the Holy Bible”.
- Finally, says Pearson, there are attitudes “ranging from skepticism to ridicule on the part of liberal theologians.” Since many liberal theologians do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, or even the virgin birth, it makes sense that they do not believe in a bodily ascension. So what about those of us who do believe in the virgin birth and bodily resurrection? Why would this affect us? Pearson says, “Even though we don’t believe what [such theologians] said, many people are nevertheless left subtly swayed by their denials.
In the next part of the chapter, Pearson explores theological skepticism towards Ascension and the lack of logic found in this skepticism. I will write about this in my next blog post. We miss a wonderful and powerful part of our faith if we neglect the Ascension of our Lord Jesus. I am grateful to Fr. Mark Pearson for exploring this question in a way that helps us embrace this aspect of Jesus’ earthly story.