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What Is Ascension Day?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales. Photo credit: Toby Hudson

Tomorrow (June 2) is Ascension Day 2011. In the Christian religion, it commemorates the day that Jesus Christ's body was taken to heaven on the Thursday 40 days after his Easter resurrection.

Along with the feasts of the Passion, Easter , and Pentecost, the Feast of the Ascension is "ecumenical" universally celebrated by all Christian denominations (though some Catholic sects opt to observe the feast on the Sunday after the Thursday). Ascension Day has been celebrated since at least as early the fifth century A.D.

Several passages in the Bible describe the Ascension of Jesus. Some say it occurred in the presence of 11 of his Apostles. During the 40 days prior, after Christ was resurrected but before his ascension to heaven, one New Testament passage says he held the "Great Commission" during which he instructed his disciples about how best to spread his teachings. Other Biblical passages offer conflicting accounts of how he spent the intervening time.

Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover.

Natalie Wolchover
Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She hold a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Follow Natalie on Google+.