Yom HaAliyah: The Celebration of Ascension Day

Why would we not want to celebrate such a key event in the kingdom of heaven?


Calendar, Messianic JudaismJun 1, 2016

CalendarJun 1, 2016


Part of Rembrandt's Passion Cycle for Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange depicting the Ascension [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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While most believers celebrate the death and resurrection of the Master, very few celebrate his ascension. At least this is true in evangelical circles. High churches around the world such as Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy still celebrate the day as one of the great feasts of the Christian year.

It is usually celebrated on the Thursday that is forty days from Easter, although some Roman Catholics have moved the celebration to the following Sunday. The Ascension celebration is one of the ecumenical feasts of Christianity right up there with the Feasts of the Passion, Easter, and Pentecost.

So what about Messianic Judaism? Should we be celebrating Ascension Day? I think the answer is a resounding "yes!" It’s a significant day and in some respects represents an event in the life of the Master that is at least as important as his death and resurrection. The Ascension symbolizes the kingdom when the Master ascends to the heavenly realms and takes up his throne at the right hand of the Father. It is at this point that the Master takes up all authority and everything is placed under his feet. This motif is found in Psalm 110, which is the most frequently quoted text from the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament. The Ascension is also closely tied to the giving of the Holy Spirit. As Yeshua tells his disciples, “If I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). Why would we not want to celebrate such a key event in the kingdom of heaven?

However, I would argue that we should celebrate not on the fortieth after Easter but on the fortieth day of Counting of the Omer. The Syriac Church records the ancient church tradition that the Master was with his disciples for forty days after his resurrection:

After our Redeemer had risen from the grave, and had gone about in the world forty days, He appeared to His disciples ten times, and ate and drank with them … Our Lord remained upon the earth forty days, even as He had fasted forty days, and as Elijah fasted forty days, and as Moses fasted forty days at several times, and as the rain continued for forty days during the flood, and as God admonished the Ninevites for forty days, and as the spies remained absent for forty days, and as the Children of Israel wandered about in the wilderness for forty years, and like the child whose fashioning in the womb is completed in forty days. After forty days, our Lord took up His disciples to the Mount of Olives, and laid His hand upon them.

Therefore, if the Master was resurrected on the first day of the Omer and he remained with his disciples for forty days, then he ascended on the fortieth day of the Omer. In turn, in Messianic Judaism we should be celebrating the Ascension on mem b’omer (מם בעומר), Omer day forty.

How do we celebrate the ascension? One church tradition is to venture to a hill or mountain top and have a picnic since the Master’s ascension took place on the Mount of Olives. Another custom is to have a feast that includes poultry, preferably from a species that flies. The bird, of course, representing ascending into the heavens. During the meal, wherever it is held, it would be good to read or sing through the Songs of Ascent and to teach through the three biblical texts describing the ascension in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:50-53, and Acts 1:4-11, as well as Psalm 110. There is even a custom among some Messianic groups to launch helium balloons at the end of the celebration as a symbol of the Master’s ascent. Whatever customs you choose to follow it should be a day filled with joy and celebration as we remember this important event in the life of the Master.

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About the Author: Toby Janicki is a teacher, writer, and project manager for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David. He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has written several books including God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel. More articles by Toby Janicki

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