Ten years ago this week, I woke up to the clanging of church bells from a 900-year old Catholic church just across the narrow, cobblestone street outside my shuttered window. The four-story house in which I awoke was half that age. Once the residence for priests of the church, the house belonged to a young family who provided bed and breakfast to guests like us. Descending its solid wooden staircase, I was awed to feel the polished grooves of centuries of feet under my own. I was in Beromünster, Switzerland, where our daughter Mindy worked as an au pair.
We arrived the day before Ascension Day. The only thing I knew about Ascension Day was that it marks the day Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven, 40 days after his resurrection. But in Beromünster, the day includes an unparalleled custom called “Auffahrtsumritt” in Swiss German.
In the early morning, a colourful group of local clergy and other religious figures leaves the town on horseback, along with some two hundred believers. Large crowds follow on foot, praying blessings on the fields within the boundary line. The local priest leads the way, escorted by mounted soldiers, a brass band, church choir, and numerous crosses and flags. Stops are made at specific places, where readings are given.
In the early afternoon, the group completes the circle and enters the town to more ringing of bells. A benediction pronounced in front of the church brings the pageantry to a close.
I agreed to participate with Mindy in the prayer walk. Starting at 5:00 a.m. (relatively easy to my jet-lagged body), we walked from village to village. It was a gorgeous day and those around us prayed through their rosaries as they walked. Mindy and I, however, having been separated ten long months, were less inclined to pray. Our constant chatter earned us at least one impatient shushing from one of the faithful.
Ignorant foreigners that we were, I felt embarrassed and chastised but was far too happy to let it bother me for long. Who could feel anything but euphoric--reunited with my daughter, surrounded by fragrant, rolling meadows, the constant ringing of sheep bells, and gorgeous mountains in every direction? The breath-taking beauty around us left me longing for more.
And so it should. Though my outward behaviour may have appeared disrespectful, I celebrated Ascension Day embracing Jesus’ promise that where he was going, I could one day follow.
One of my favorite Carolyn Arends songs, Reaching, says:
“I guess I shouldn't think it odd, until we see the face of God
The yearning deep within us tells us there's more to come;
So when we taste of the divine, it leaves us hungry every time
For one more taste of what awaits when heaven's gates are reached.”
Happy Ascension Day!
"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (Jesus in John 14:3)