Yesterday marked both the Christian observance of Ascension Day and the civic observance of the National Day of Prayer.
The latter is a function of American civil religion which dates to 1952. The current practice of observing the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May dates to 1988. The text of the president’s politically inclusive 2016 proclamation is here.
For Christians, the Feast of the Ascension is the infinitely more important of the two observances. Based on the chronology in the Book of Acts, it comes 40 days after Easter and commemorates Christ ascension to the right hand of God.
Christ’s ascension is central to the apostolic Christian faith, yet Ascension Day is the most underappreciated festival of the Christian year. The orthodox Christians who confess the Apostles and Nicene creeds affirm “He ascended into heaven.” There, as the creed reminds us, “he is seated at the right hand of the Father.” There he reigns as the Lord of heaven and earth and the head of his church. From there he pours out the Holy Spirit. There he sits in power until he comes again in glory to restore all creation. There the church meets him by faith in its prayer, worship and fellowship. There he joins us at the Eucharistic table as both priest and sacrifice as the veil between heaven and earth is pulled away.
Surely Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of God has something to say about how Christians understand and practice prayer.