Ascension Day

Ascension Day ekes out a shadowy existence among the emotional and moving festivals of the church year. Wrongly so, says Stephan Jütte: without Ascension, Christianity would have remained a sect among others.

"For to us a child is born" - "Oh great distress, God himself is dead!" - "He is risen. He is truly risen!" Whether you believe it or not, we associate Christmas, Good Friday and Easter with images and ideas. Even the wild Pentecost with its dove has managed to become part of our symbolic cultural heritage. It's more difficult with Ascension Day. You don't want to have to realise Ascension Day on film.

Whoever is away can be there

Anyone who believes the Jesus story not in the colloquial sense of "as history", but is open to a symbolic, supra-historical, mythological interpretation, recognises that the Ascension is the hinge between Easter and Pentecost: The Son of God is alive (Easter) and can be approached everywhere, at any time in any place and is close to us humans, so that his spirit brings us together (Pentecost). But how this works, that the one who lives is not among us, is explained by Ascension. Without Easter we would not have a living, effective Christ, without Pentecost he would not be everywhere and at all times. But without the Ascension - without Christ being in heaven - we would not know that the Risen One himself is close to us in the spirit of Pentecost: Only when he is away can he be fully there.

Forty is enough

A Christian church and culture as we know it would be inconceivable without the Ascension. The real presence of the Son of God had to be limited. Otherwise, everyone could have invoked a private meeting, an exclusive revelation or a new divine announcement or instruction: "Well, I also met Jesus. And he told me that..." The Acts of the Apostles limits the time between the resurrection and the ascension into heaven to forty days. Forty days is a full measure. The rain poured down on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights during the Flood. 40 years of wandering in the desert. Moses was close to God on Mount Sinai for 40 days. Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days. 40 days or 40 years: Forty is enough.

Not a minor matter

Those who want to call on God after these forty days have a more difficult time. This is because God's Spirit is poured out on the church, not on an individual chosen one. His work must be interpreted, differentiated and discussed. Those who rely on the charisma of a religious leader invoke succession after their death. This does not require procedures and institutions, only legitimisation. And not congregations, but disciples and acclamation.

The hinge is by no means a minor matter. It is "only" a connection. But wrongly connected, Christianity would have remained just another sect, which - thank God - would no longer really characterise and occupy us today, but would have had its forty years behind it.

Picture of Stephan Jütte

Stephan Jütte

Dr. theol.

Leiter Theologie und Ethik
Mitglied der Geschäftsleitung

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