Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ascension Day hymns

A few years ago, I was listening to a lecture by the late Pastor Kenneth Korby. In the course of talking about confession and absolution, he mentioned something that has intrigued ever since: the downgrading of Ascension day in our lives.

He used the example of the ever-decreasing number of Ascension day hymns in LCMS hymnals.

There are 12 Ascension day hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal.

In the 1982 Lutheran Worship, there are 6.

In Lutheran Service Book, there are 5.

I'm not sure what this means. I suspect it's related to the post-Vatican II changes that occurred in the Roman churches (quickly picked up by most Lutheran church bodies) which changed the season of Easter. Easter used to extend the 40 days from Easter Sunday to Ascension. Now the Easter season is officially 50 days in most Western churches, from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.

This changes Ascension from being the end of a season to being a place in the season, a sort of speed bump on the way to Pentecost.

But I wonder if this whole change tells us something more profound about the way we think about Christ. Ascension to the early Christians was a realization that we live by faith, not by sight, that Christ is no longer among us as a visible-to-the-eyes presence, but that we trust in Him by faith, and that we hear Him, rather than seeing Him.

Has that changed? Have we subtly (in the West) moved to a more triumphal type of faith, a Pentecost faith, rather than an Ascension faith? I'm not sure. I'd appreciate any insights from those more learned than myself.

But the changes in the hymnal are not accidental. They signal something to us. What they signal, I'm not totally certain. But there is a change. The change may be benign. But it's important to recognize the change, and understand it, and not follow blindly to what is perhaps a newer theology than we realize.

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