The final verses of Luke’s gospel (24:50-53) suggest that Christ’s ascension occurred on the evening of His resurrection. However, the book of Acts (1:3) and tradition state that the ascension occurred forty days later. There are no direct accounts of the ascension in the other three gospels, although John’s gospel and Paul’s letters have references to the event. The theological significance of Christ’s ascension is that His human form was taken up into Heaven where He exercises all power in Heaven and on earth. Ascension Day on the fortieth day after Easter began to be celebrated in the fourth century with a procession to commemorate Christ’s journey to the Mount of Olives. In these early times, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and the Ascension were celebrated as a unitive festival. During the last quarter of the fourth century in Constantinople, the church calendar separated the two feasts. Until 1970, the Paschal candle was doused after the gospel lesson on this day, implying that Christ’s human body was no longer earth-bound. In more recent times the Paschal candle continues to be lit throughout the Easter season concluding with the celebration of Pentecost.
~Dr. Gil Haas