You might not know what a Himmelfahrt is, but from the sounds of it, you might not think it to be a good thing at all! In fact, it is a very good thing, the very term that our German ancestors used for a special holiday of the church which we will celebrate this month. But first, a few clues:
“What is that celebration?” you ask. It is the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, of course! Our forbearers called it, “Himmelfahrt” which, roughly translated DOES NOT mean some bodily ailment that might require the use of some “Beano.” Himmelfahrt means, “Heaven Going.” On Ascension we celebrate the “Heaven Going” of our Lord.
A few questions about this holiday:
For about 200 years the townspeople in this British town have gathered at 12 noon around the bell tower of the church on Ascension Day (St. John’s College in Cambridge). It seems that some time ago the organist was challenged to a bet that his choir could not be heard from the bell tower roof. The organist took the challenge, and the following Ascension Day the choir ascended the 163-foot tower and proved the challenger wrong. Necks crooned to the sky to hear the sounds of the Ascension and to say one last time in the Easter Season: “Christ has risen. Christ has triumphed. Alleluia!” (Pastor Seifferlein participated in this tradition when he went to seminary for a year in England.)
A pastor came to a congregation. The congregation for some time had not had an Ascension Day service, and there was some questioning about whether or not it was really needed. One particular layman who felt that the service was not important intended to show the pastor that there was no reason to have the service and asked the pastor the next Sunday, kidding the pastor a little, “So pastor, how many people came to your Ascension Service this week?” “Let’s see,” the pastor said smiling. “There were angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. There were so many that you couldn’t even count them!” The layman got the pastor’s point, and had in mind that maybe he would even come to the Ascension Day service the following year to be a part of the “large crowd.”
For your devotions read the text to LSB #494 (or TLH #218), “See, the Lord Ascends in Triumph.” You won’t be disappointed with this hymn by the poet Christopher Wordsworth!
We may not think much of the Ascension, but consider that our forbearers put a statue of the Ascension in our church. In its original location the statue was front and center over the altar. The statue is of Christ, ascending into heaven with the world and cosmos at his feet, His hands outward in blessing, displaying His wounds. As one person in our congregation remarked, Jesus’ eyes gaze upon you no matter where you are in the nave. Jesus says in so many words, “See How much I have done for you! Can I forget you now? I live to silence all your fears and to wipe away your tears!”
Come join us on the Eve of the Ascension of our Lord, Wedesday, May 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the church sanctuary for a Festive Divine Service on the Eve of the Ascension. Come beforehand at 5:15 p.m. for a chicken dinner in Memorial Hall provided for you.