The ascension of Jesus, in a painting in Orsa Church, Dalarna, Sweden
Today, Thursday the 13th of May, is Ascension Day in Sweden. It is a public holiday. The Swedish name for today, which rolls easily off the tongue of every Swede but not off mine, is Kristi himmelfärdsdag, which translates quaintly to “Christ’s Heavenly Journey Day”. I think it amazing that in such a secular land as Sweden people are so aware of the Christian holy days.
Despite the secularity of Sweden and the western world in general, our culture is saturated in Christianity. We live in an age of scientific rationalism, an age when the enlightened do not believe in the supernatural, do not believe in life after death, do not believe in miracles. But it is a confused age because there is at the same time a longing in the hearts of many for something more than the tangible, and there is an gut feeling in perhaps the majority that God does exist, that there is something higher, something beyond, the ordinary stuff of daily life. Even in a superficially atheistic world we still maintain the Christian holy days – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and many others. Swedes, like Australians, would never say no to a public holiday. I wonder if any would object if the Christian holy days were maintained as days off, but renamed according to the prevailing values of the day. That is, after all what the Christians of old did when they renamed the pagan festivals with Christian saints days and days commemorating different times in the life of Jesus.
I work as a doctor, and the worldview that underpins the medical profession in our time is a scientific rationalist worldview. The foundation of almost everything that we do these days is “scientific evidence”. The highest form of our profession is known as evidence based medicine. At the same time as a believer in Jesus I hold fast to doctrines that are hard to prove – the existence of a God who created the universe, the idea of a supernatural being who is interested in individual people, the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the existence of a Holy Spirit who communicates with us personally even now. I live, in other words, with this same tension – on the one being taught to accept nothing without evidence, on the other hand believing that there are truths that cannot be absolutely proven.
Such is the world we live in, and it can be a difficult place to be sometimes…
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he shall come to judge the living and the dead…
(The Apostles Creed)