The ten days between the Ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost form a mini-season or sub-season called Ascensiontide.  There is debate between modern and traditionalist views of the calendar over just how independent this season is from Eastertide, and you can read about that here.  What one finds upon closer inspection, however, is that whether Ascensiontide should be considered part of Easter or a season in its own right, it is very strongly linked, liturgically, both to Easter and to Pentecost, marking the transition from one to the other, not unlike the transitional Pre-Lent Sundays of the old calendar.

At a length of ten calendar days, Ascensiontide has two “days” in the Prayer Book: Ascension Day (the Thursday in the 6th week of Easter) and the Sunday after Ascension Day.

Ascension Day

This day has not substantially changed from the traditional calendar to the 2019 Prayer Book.  The Collect is the same, and the two original lessons are among the 2019 options: Acts 1:1-14 and Mark 16:14-20 both speak of the ascension of Jesus and his last words to his disciples.  The 2019 Prayer Book adds Psalm 47 (or 110:1-5) and Ephesians 1:15-23, and also supplies Luke 24:44-53 as an alternative to the traditional Gospel from Mark.

For the Daily Office, the 1662 Prayer Book identified Ascension Day as one of the six days of the year that merited a unique set of Psalms: 8, 15, and 21 at Morning Prayer, and 24, 47, and 108 at Evening Prayer.  Psalm 47 is perhaps the most obvious ascension-related Psalm (“God has gone up with a triumphant shout!“) and thus is offered as the psalm for the Communion service in the modern lectionary.

Ascension Sunday

In both traditional and modern lectionaries, the Sunday after the Ascension shows signs of influence from both Eastertide and Ascension Day.

The Collect (same in old and 2019 prayer books) is thematically built on the same foundation as that for Ascension Day, but adds the element of looking ahead to Pentecost: “Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit” – a reference to the traditional Gospel for the day of Pentecost.  It’s lovely: we pray this prayer on one Sunday, as if with the original apostles-in-waiting, and then we hear it answered the following Sunday as the apostles experienced it too.

The lessons are rather more different.  The course of Epistle and Gospel lessons in the traditional Eastertide are continued on this day, ending in 1 Peter 4 and John 15.  The modern lessons also complete the modern Eastertide sequence: a different part of 1 Peter 4 or the end of 1 John 5 or Revelation 22; and a Gospel from John 17, which appropriately brings us Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity in preparation for the day of Pentecost.  Readings from the book of Acts continues as an Old Testament replacement option on this day: on two years of the cycle looking appropriately at Acts 1, and in Year C reading from chapter 16 to finish off the Eastertide sequence instead of addressing Ascensiontide.

Ascensiontide as a transition

Whether you choose to consider this period of time as the final of Easter’s 50 days or a distinct ten day season of their own, tradition both old and new connects this time fluidly to its predecessor (Easter) and its successor (Pentecost).  We move from the resurrection to the resurrection life to the ascension of Christ with our human nature to Jesus’parting blessing to us in the descent of the Holy Spirit, and this season marks the turning of the page between Easter and Pentecost.

As we observed the other day, this is a period of time that is ripe for quiet inward-focused prayer.  If your or your church doesn’t normally pray the Great Litany, this is an excellent time to make use of it.  This is a good time for special prayer meetings or vigils, for rest and discernment before the Lord.  Like the Apostles who spent this time in preparation and prayer before the explosive activity of Pentecost, it is good for us to seize times such as this for the same, preparation and prayer, before starting the next round of outward-focused activity that we normally like to think about at Pentecost.  This often lines up with the end of the academic school year, and may easily match the transition period for students between school work and summer jobs.  It may also be a good time to look inward at our Sunday School or Christian Education teachers and thank them for their labors and grant them some rest.

One thought on “Ascensiontide Old & New

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