Ascension Day: Celebrating Christ's Ascent into Heaven
Ascension Day is the day that we remember Jesus’ ascent into heaven.
After Jesus’ resurrection, He revealed himself to His disciples over a period of forty days. He ate with them and taught them all about the kingdom of God. One day, while He was eating with them, He told them that they were to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift His Father had promised. He told them that they would be baptized by fire and the Holy Spirit and that they would receive power and that they would be His witnesses throughout the world.
On the fortieth day, Jesus brought them out into the countryside. He lifted up His hands and blessed them. As He was blessing them, He was lifted up into the clouds. While the disciples were looking up into the sky, two men dressed in white stood beside them and asked why they were looking into the sky. They explained that Jesus would return in the same way that He went into heaven. The disciples immediately began worshiping the Lord and returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. There they stayed for nine days, praying and praising God.
Together with Mary and the disciples, we marvel at what happened. Jesus defied all earthly laws and ascended up into the clouds to sit at the right hand of the Father. We also wait for a gift that has been promised to us. We don't fully understand what it is but we have been told to wait and pray.
There are nine days between the day that Jesus ascended (The Ascension) and the day that the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples (Pentecost). These nine days are called a “novena” and were the first novena that the church celebrated.
Ascension Day is a feast day and is celebrated all over the world. In many countries, there is a “beating of the bounds” where the boundaries of the church property are beaten with bundles of sticks and prayed over. In Portugal, they gather wheat stalks and place them in their homes. In many churches in Italy, a statue of the Risen Lord is lifted on wires up through a hole in the ceiling of the church. Then gifts of cookies, fruit, flowers, and green branches rained down from the hole and into the church.
Something else wonderful happens in Italy on the Feast of the Ascension. In Venice, there is a clock tower in the Piazza San Marco. Underneath the clock is a niche with a figure of Mary holding Jesus. Twice a year, once on the Feast of the Epiphany and during the festivities surrounding the Ascension (known as "la Festa della Sensa" in Venice) doors on either side of Mary and Jesus open up, and the three Magi, led by an angel appear. The angel and the three Magi make their way around Mary and Jesus, the angel lifts his trumpet to his lips, and the Magi bow down and remove their crowns.
Ways to Celebrate
Read Luke 24:44-53 as a family. Discuss what the disciples must have felt when they saw Jesus rise up into heaven. How would you feel if you saw Jesus ascend into heaven? Why do you think Jesus needed to go up to heaven?
Eat fowl. It is traditional on this day to eat fowl since fowl fly up into heaven. This usually includes birds like doves, ducks, or pheasants. Since that might be hard to come by, make something with chicken or turkey.
In Western Germany, bakers sold pastries in the shapes of birds. Make cookies and use a bird cookie cutter.
Make Divinity to symbolize the clouds in the sky.
Hike a mountain or hill. Just as Jesus led his disciples up a mountain before he ascended, it is traditional for people to hike to the highest place in their area and have a picnic. We live by the beach so we always go to the beach, have a picnic and admire the sky.
Catch crickets. In some parts of Italy, there is an interesting custom of catching crickets on this day. Families have a picnic while the children look for crickets, which are said to bring blessings.
Celebrate Ascension by going over the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
2 ½ cups sugar
½ cup water
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Cook first 4 ingredients in a heavy 2-quart saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves and a candy thermometer registers 248 degrees(about 15 minutes). Remove syrup mixture from heat.
Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Pour half of hot syrup in a thin stream over egg whites, beating constantly at high speed, about 5 minutes.
Cook remaining half of syrup over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer registers 272 degrees(about 4 to 5 minutes). Slowly pour hot syrup and vanilla extract over egg white mixture, beating constantly at high speed until mixture holds its shape (about 6 to 8 minutes). Stir in 1 cup chopped pecans.
Drop mixture quickly by rounded teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased wax paper. Garnish, if desired. Cool.