Ascension Day or Memorial Day, Which?

Each year, forty days after the celebration of Easter, the church celebrates Ascension Day commemorating the event of Jesus’ departure from this earth to His abode in heaven.

As nation, each year, on May 30 we celebrate Memorial Day to remember the soldiers who have given their lives in battles of the past.

This year, it so happens, that both these days fall on the last Thursday of May. This brings about the question what to do about this conflict of dates? Shall we give in to the world, and celebrate her day with her? Shall we celebrate both events at the same time? Or, shall we entirely drop Memorial Day and celebrate the event of the ascension only?

To answer the above questions correctly, we do well to determine the actual value of these days for us as Christians.

What actually took place on Ascension Day was that Christ, in His human nature, ascended to heaven. Now that is an event of tremendous significance! The same humiliated Jesus, Who took the guilt of our sins upon Himself, Who was obedient to the very bitter death of hell, THAT very Jesus was taken up to heaven, the abode of God. His task on earth had been accomplished; salvation had been realized for His people. He ascended as head of those whom the Father had given Him out of the world. By His ascension, He gave us the right to enter with Him into God’s tabernacle to taste His fellowship, love and grace. The Heidelberg Catechism informs us, upon Scriptural basis, that the ascension of Christ is of three-fold advantage to us: 1. We now have an advocate in the presence of the Father, 2. Our flesh (glorified, of course, since also Christ’s flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom) is in heaven, and He, as our Head, will also take us up with Himself. 3. He sends us His Spirit as an earnest, by whose power, we seek the things above.

On Memorial Day, the world pays tribute to its own, momentarily paying an outward tribute to God. Understand well, the Christian also remembers the sacrifice his fellows have made in earthly conflicts, yet in his memorials he takes a far different approach than the world.

We are now ready to answer the previously stated questions. Regarding the question if or not we should give in to the world and celebrate with her, we answer, that is impossible. First of all, even when these days do not fall on the same date, the Christian’s celebration of Memorial Day is distinct. Secondly, God forbid, that we should willingly neglect the day the church celebrates the ascension of her Lord, merely because the world has its Memorial Day.

In respect to the question regarding the celebration of both events at the same time, we contain that that surely is also impossible. The one event is heavenly, the other earthly in character. The one is spiritual, the other natural. The one is a day belonging exclusively to the church, the other belongs to the State.

Shall we then entirely drop Memorial Day this year, and celebrate the blessed ascension of Christ only? I’m sorry I cannot answer this by saying: “We shall!” Let us begin by answering, “We should!” The truth of the matter is the church does generally not intend to celebrate the ascension on its proper day this year. Classis East of our churches has advised the consistories to have the Ascension Day service on the Sunday evening after May 30. At the time I also voted in favor of such a service. Yet, I wonder, is it proper? Is it consistent?

Ideally, the church should be determined to drop Memorial Day this year, and celebrate her Ascension Day. Doing this she might be accused of being unpatriotic. But, were our government consistently Christian, she would set Memorial Day a week ahead, or backward (doesn’t she do this with Thanksgiving Day to cater to the merchants?) and keep Ascension Day in its proper place.

If then, ideally the church should celebrate Ascension Day on May 30 this year, why doesn’t she do it? The answer is: She is unspiritual! The reason why the world leaves us alone, and even flatters us with our religion is, without a doubt due to our lack of being consistent with our religion. In the measure that we are spiritual, in that measure the world will hate us, and disown us, and in that measure, too, we will experience what the next Lord’s Day following the XVIIIth where mention of the ascension is made, means when it says, “In all my sorrows and persecutions. I . . . . look for the same person . . . . to come as judge from heaven.”

Our weakness can, yes, MUST be remedied. Let us not merely admit the weakness, and coldly pass on, but let us prayerfully with undivided effort together the more, seek those things which are above where Christ is!