Ascension Day: Lift Up Your Hearts

Continuing reading Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology last night, I was struck by two things, both relevant for today’s place in the liturgical calendar:

(1) Today is Ascension Day, the day when the Church celebrates Christ’s ascension into heaven forty days after the resurrection and ten days before Pentecost (Acts 1).  The Ascension is theologically significant for several reasons: Christ now reigns over all creation, our humanity has ascended into heaven with Christ, Christ now sends the Holy Spirit to the Church.  It has direct implications for worship, too.  Speaking of the liturgy of a worship service as “a journey from this world to the heavenly kingdom and back to this world”, Chan notes that the basis for this view of worship is “the ascension of Christ.”  He continues:

In the eucharistic prayer (the anaphora) the church is raised up to heaven to join in the heavenly liturgy. . . . It is from there that the mission of the church begins; from there that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to constitute the church as his Spirit-filled body; from there that, after being given spiritual food, the church returns to the world – back in ‘time’ – to love and serve the Lord. (p. 83)  

The anaphora is the portion of a eucharistic liturgy which says, “Lift up your hearts.  We lift them up to the Lord.”  As Christ ascended into heaven, so also the church ascends in its worship and dines at Christ’s table, only to be sent back into the world empowered by the Holy Spirit for mission as at Pentecost.  Celebrate that today.  (And if you want, you can even celebrate with us at Upper Room’s Ascension “Feast” and Worship Service tonight at 5828 Forward in Squirrel Hill.)

(2) With regard to praying the hours, Chan observes that the order of worship in the daily office contains “juxtapositions or sets of dialectic” that likewise call us momentarily out of the world before sending us back into the world. (See pages 80-81 of Chan.) For example, the use of Psalms in most daily prayer liturgies signifies joining in the timeless worship of heaven, while intercessory portions of the liturgies call our attention back to the world in time.  Each pause for an office of daily prayer is a momentary ascension  – setting our “minds on things above” where our “life is not hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2) – and then a return to the life of the world, sent forth as witnesses to the heavenly Kingdom.

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