When I started school, I attended an Anglo Catholic Convent, where the liturgical year was taken Extremely Seriously.
I specially remember Ascension Day, in those days still a public holiday, as on that festival instead of attending a service in the convent chapel we were all marched in crocodile to the church that the sisters loved best...some distance across a town that was nothing if not hilly. There, we attended a full Sung Eucharist,- distinctly baffling to the Kindergarten children like me,- and then straggled back to school again. In my memory, it was always the hottest day of the summer, and the miles multiplied, so that by the time we reached school we were totally exhausted - a shame, as the festivities were only just beginning, and the day would go on to feature sticky buns, orange juice in place of the habitual school milk (does anyone else out there remember those 1/3 pint bottles with a straw?) and then, bizarrely, Scottish Country Dancing - which was considered to be suitable entertainment for the under 11s. I knew that this was all supposed to be very exciting,- and I can still remember the taste of those glossy cinnamon buns,- but on the whole, Ascension Day left me cold.
Later, as a chorister, I realised that some of the loveliest music belonged to this Festival - (Phillips' Ascendit Deus, Gibbons' O Clap your hands ...- and that the Ascensiontide hymns had something very important to express about the Lordship of Christ. I relished standing in Great Court to hear the college choir greet the dawn, but by then I was also haunted by images of some of the more ludicrous and literal of medieval wall paintings, showing just the soles of two little pink feet as Jesus vanished into the clouds. It seemed almost impossible that anyone should take this feast seriously.
And yet,- and yet...
So much to reflect on, about our need to let Jesus go, in order to have constant access to him, - about the reign of Christ, transcending time and space....about the exaltation of our humanity (he shares our humanity so that we might share his divinity)...about our calling to look up, to expect his return, and meanwhile to live and work in the light of the Great Commission. Trying to explain the feast to the mums and toddlers at Little Fishes this morning, I ended up hiding the "Jesus candle",- the Paschal flame that has burned since the Easter Vigil,- and then asking the children whether they thought it was still there. When we'd established that it was, and that it's flame still burned brightly, we placed it high in the pulpit, so that it could be seen from anywhere in the church. That was some improvement, but it didn't really go far enough if we really REALLY wanted everyone to see its light. So in the end, we decided that the only answer was to light one candle for each child from the Paschal candle, and so when they went home they could take the light of Christ home with them. They couldn't see the big candle any longer,- but they could each of them share in its light.
It made more sense that vanishing toes and fluffy clouds, at least from my perspective.
Augustine helped, too
"Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear....While in heaven he is also with us, and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, bey divinity, but in him we can be there by love. He did not leave heaven when he came down to us..nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven....These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body....Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace....the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head."