If you’re a regular church-goer, you surely know that the pews are at their fullest on Christmas and Easter. No surprise there. Take a moment and see if you have a guess what the next two most attended Church celebrations might be. Do you have one or two in mind?
In my experience as a full-time Church music director, the next largest days for Church attendance are Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday. Now, I’m sure there are many reasons that these bookends of Lent are so well attended compared to a typical Sunday, but I’d like to focus today on these two:
1) You get something,
2) People can tell you went to Church.
Yes, on either day you get something “extra” at Mass – ashes or palm branches. And, people can tell you’ve been to Church: you have a somewhat cross-shaped smudge of ashes on your forehead, or you have a palm branch to display, probably behind a crucifix, somewhere in your home.
When the Church celebrates Ascension, I wonder, though, if the pews shouldn’t be just as full for the same two reasons. You see, in the scriptures of the day, Jesus gives his disciples (and all of us) what is called “The Great Commission.” He says, in Acts, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then again in Mark’s Gospel, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” Truly this commission is a great gift, and one that should be harder to accept than even ashes of repentance, or palm branches praising the King.
The Easter season is one in which we hear about the earliest Christians beginning to live their faith – beginning to understand all that happened during Holy Week, and how to live it externally. How awesome would it be, after this day in Church, if we too thought and prayed more carefully about what we had just received, and intentionally lived with new passion to make sure that people could tell we had been to Church today by how we lived our lives outside the doors of the Church!
Let these be our challenges on the Solemnity of the Ascension: what have we received today, and how does it inspire us to live our faith in a more obvious way?