This is a grand ‘in-between’ time. According to the calendar I go by it is the time between the Easter and Pentecost. Easter is 50 days, not one, and we are in the middle of it.

To the German Reformed farmers who settled this region “Christi Himmelfahrt” (Ascension Day) was a very important holiday. Even today, in areas of southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania where Anabaptists live (Mennonites, Amish), you will not see any wash hanging on the line or any team in the field on Ascension day. In our own sanctuary, above the altar, you will notice that the stained glass window depicts the Ascension. At Faulkner Swamp, the oldest German Reformed congregation in the ‘new world’ a painting of the same scene adorns their altar space. Ascension was once so important a Christian holiday that congregations saw fit to ensure that they were reminded of that every Sunday morning.

What was it about Ascension day that was so important? Article 46 of the Heidelberg Catechism answers the question What do you confess when you say, He ascended into heaven? by stating “That Christ, before the eyes of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that He is there for our benefit until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.” The Catechism further explores aspects of the ascension, asking How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us? and replying, “First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit…”

There, in the most basic of assertions about our faith, we have what is (beyond the resurrection itself) what is important…essential…about the work of Christ. This is why the day is so important. Christ now reigns over all creation. He is not only a teacher, worthy to be followed in acts of faithfulness, he is also the way (as in the way, the truth, the life) that we are reconciled to God. And, it is after the ascension that we receive the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost (celebrated May 25) is, of course, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. We understand Pentecost as a powerful feast of salvation, because it speaks about the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, about the founding of the Church, and about the Final Judgement. Pentecost can be seen parallel to the Jewish festival of Shavout, As Easter is to Passover. On Passover, the Jews were delivered from slavery in Egypt; On Easter, humankind was delivered from slavery to sin. On Shavout the Children of Israel received the Law; On Pentecost, the Church received the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

This year, May is indeed a grand ‘in-between’ time. It may mean little more than Mothers Day and graduations to some folk. But on our calendar, it is a very important time indeed.

Am I a dinosaur, trying to turn people’s attention to ideas and celebrations from long ago? I suppose I am. This old calendar still has something to teach us about the Christian faith. Keeping its holidays reminds us, annually, of the power of the gospel. The Christian church, following earlier Jewish tradition, has long used the seasons of the year as an opportunity for festivals and holidays, sacred time set aside to worship God as the Lord of life. Still, this effort is as contemporary as it gets because it is about who reigns in our life now and where we find strength for our journey.