Ascension Day marks the end of the forty days during which Jesus appeared to those who had followed him. On this day (according to Acts 1: 9) ‘he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of [the disciples’] sight’ or (according to Luke 24: 51) ‘While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.’ The date and authorship of the document reproduced below are not known.
PROPOSAL 9 TO THE COMMITTEE FOR THE PREVENTION OF GOD, FROM WORKING PARTY D (ON CHRISTIAN FESTIVALS)
SUMMARY: That we seek to divide the ending of Jesus’ ministry from the empowerment of his followers, with the first event to be called if possible ‘Ascension’ and the second ‘Pentecost’.
BACKGROUND: Jesus did not teach theoretically. Time and again, his invitation and commandment was simple - ‘Follow me’. Following his resurrection, he could have continued appearing to few or to many for decades and centuries, winning new adherents but creating a church of servants. But from the beginning he intended the empowerment of people as sons and daughters of God. He put the goal clearly, and noted that this goal would involve the ceasing of his own ministry on Earth: ‘The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14: 12).
Jesus brought into the world a new spiritual authority. He seeks to transmit that authority and responsibility to the whole of humanity. In step one he arrives and says ‘Follow me’; in step two he withdraws and says ‘Go further’. And those who respond are provided with their own relationship with and empowerment from God to do this. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ (John 20: 22-23)
Using our proposed terminology, the Ascension is the lightning flash of empowerment, of which Pentecost is the thunderclap – inseparable and dramatic. This is the divine intention. Therefore our task and opportunity is to separate them and make them obscure.
(1) We shall encourage the Church to divide the empowerment act into two events as disconnected as possible: the cessation of Jesus’ ministry and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Each on its own is easier to erode. We have received the interesting suggestion that if the first event were always to be celebrated on, say, a Thursday rather than a Sunday, its meaning might in time become lost altogether to the majority of the Church.
(2) We propose to encourage that the first event be called ‘Ascension’. This immediately takes the emphasis away from Earth, where the divine plan would have it, ‘up’ to heaven. The mind’s eye cannot avoid the movement.
(3) In a more scientific era, the emphasis on upward movement towards a heaven will help create the preconditions for ludicrousness. To strengthen this, we hope the Church will be persuaded to adopt as a Bible reading to be read on ‘Ascension’ Day a passage about God being an old man with white hair in the sky (for example Daniel 7: 9).
(4) We propose that the second event should be called ‘Pentecost’. This has enormous potential for becoming obscure. We also anticipate the assistance of generations of priests in maximising the diversion of attention onto wind, flames, tongues and operatic effects in general, rather than the empowerment of people directly by God.
(5) If these concepts receive the Committee’s approval, we propose that the resulting actions should be referred to under the self-explanatory title, ‘Project Helicopter’.