Tonight, after several years of trying, but for one reason or another, never actually getting there, we finally made it to the Ascension service at our church. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been to church on Ascension Day proper, and I was very curious to see what the service was like. It was a festival service, as I expected, and we sang Ascension hymns, also as expected, but one thing did strike me as unexpected, (although, I guess in retrospect, I should have seen it coming)–the snuffing out of the Paschal candle during the Ascension reading.
That one moment put a bit of a somber spin on the otherwise celebratory festival service. And it really made me think. I found I was very disappointed to see that light extinguished. When that particular light is brought back at the Great Vigil of Easter, it is one of the high points of the church year for me. And the candle being lit every Sunday between Easter and Ascension serves as a reminder that we are in a season of celebration. But then, in the middle of our celebration, the candle is abruptly extinguished. And in that moment, I think I got a glimpse into what the disciples must have felt.
Here they were, rejoicing that their teacher, their friend, their Savior, had beaten death, and was back in their midst. They walked with Him and learned from Him in those forty days following His resurrection. And then, just as quickly as He had rejoined them, He was gone again. Yes, they knew where He was going, so the fear of death no longer hung over them, but He was still gone from their midst.
One of our hymns tonight mentioned the disciples’ “happy tears,” and yet, I have to wonder just how happy they were. I was sad enough just seeing the Paschal candle go out; if I had walked with Jesus for all that time, I think my tears would have been pretty heartbroken at His leaving. It makes me wonder just what the disciples were thinking and feeling. It is certainly understandable that the angels would have had to snap them out of their thoughts as they stared up at heaven. But were they left feeling bereft at the Lord’s absence? Excited about the job ahead of them? Terrified of all they had witnessed in the last two months? Probably a mixture of those emotions, and others, I’m sure.