Yesterday was Ascension Day. We had a special church service in the evening. Instead of recounting the events surrounding Jesus' return to heaven, the speaker focused on the results and benefits of the Ascension. We have a Great High Priest in heaven interceding to the Father for us. He is not like the High Priests in the Old Testament who died but is an Eternal High Priest, continually interceding on our behalf. It was an inspiring and reassuring message, well worth being there to hear it.
As we drove home I reflected on how the observance of Ascension Day has changed in my lifetime. When I was a girl at home we went to church in the morning on Ascension Day. The rest of the day was kept holy the same as a Sunday. We might go visiting or have company but no work was done. All Mennonite business places were closed for the day.
About the first 12-15 years of our marriage we went to church in the morning on Ascension and then to a family reunion for lunch. The date for Ascension fluctuates as it is forty days after Easter. Some years it was rather early and quite cool for a picnic. But having a picnic on Ascension was a Stauffer tradition and it persisted in spite of inclement weather.
Eventually, the aunt and uncle who hosted the reunion were too aged to continue and the Stauffer reunion was switched to a Sunday in October. With no reunion to attend on Ascension, we continued going to church in the morning but came home afterward and did things around the place. We no longer observed the no-work rule as on a Sunday. Most of the people in the (Mennonite-owned) place Leroy works were working on Ascension so sometimes he went to work in the afternoon.
Attendance at Ascension Day services dwindled as fewer and fewer people observed the day. Business places that used to be closed on Ascension are now doing business as usual all day. A few years ago the decision was made to shift our church services to the evening. Attendance has picked up as people no longer have to choose between going to work or church. We can now go about our normal work routine during the day and conveniently pay our respects to the day in the evening.
Fifty years ago I would have felt wicked to do any work on Ascension. Today I can work all day, go to church in the evening and not feel guilty at all. How did that happen? Suppose our Eternal High Priest relaxed His standards and did not intercede for us as faithfully as He did fifty years ago. Where would we be?