ASCENSION OF THE LORD
From a Child's Point of View
Acts 1:1-11. The Ascension story is of interest to children for two reasons. First, it answers the literal-minded questions, "What did Jesus do after Easter?" and "Where is Jesus now?" The answer is that for forty days Jesus helped his disciples understand what had happened on Good Friday and Easter. Then he returned to God. Second, the Ascension is the story of Jesus passing the baton of responsibility to his disciples. As he returned to God, Jesus instructed the disciples to pick up and continue his work. They were to be Jesus' witneses, and they were to expect God to send the Holy Spirit to help them with the task. The "two men in white" emphasize this change when they ask why the disciples are staring into the sky. There is work to be done. So on Ascension Day, we complete our celebration of what Jesus did and get ready to go to work as his witnesses today.
Older children are especially receptive to the challenge to be witnesses. Their parallel of the phrase "in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" is "at home, at school, in [your town], and to all the world."
These eleven verses are packed with a summary of the forty days after Easter, the promise of the Holy Spirit, a discussion between Jesus and the disciples about the messianic kingdom, and the Ascension story. The Good News Bible is by far the easiest translation with which to keep up with all this action. Even so, you may need to reread verses 8-11 in order that children focus attention on the Ascension.
Gospel: Luke 24:44-53. This is the easier of today's Ascension accounts for children. Reading it just before or after the Acts account will help children clarify what happened. The message is the same. The disciples (and we) are to take up Jesus' work after receiving the Holy Spirit.
Psalm: Psalm 47 or 93. The inclusion of these psalms with the Ascension texts is hard to explain to children. The psalms are all pomp-and-circumstance for the triumphant "king of the world." The Ascension accounts focus on the "servant king" who calls on his followers to take up his ministry. Adults can see the significance of this pairing of servant King and triumphant King, but few children can.
On its own, however, either psalm is a great reminder that God/Jesus is King of the universe, the greatest power that ever was or ever will be.
Epistle: Ephesians 1:15-23. This passage is for grown-ups. The sentence structure is too complex and the words too abstract for children. Children will hear Paul's basic message about Christ in the more concrete story of the Ascension.
Ascension and ascend are not children's words. Use them today to describe only this event.
Beware of using vocabulary about the triumphant king. Words such as dominion, exalted, and subdued people are foreign to children. Otherwise familiar words like triumphant, victorious, conquering, and glorious become meaningless when combined in long lists of adjectives or when used repetitively in varying combinations.
Take time to give the legal definition of witness so that children know what Jesus is asking his disciples to do.
Let the Children Sing
Most of the hymns designated for Ascension Day are filled with triumphal language and theological jargon which are beyond children's understanding. The children will be more readily celebrate Jesus' Ascension by singing "Come, Christians, Join to Sing," or even "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." Sing the latter hymn one more time to conclude the entire Easter season.
"Open My Eyes That I May See" is a good hymn with which to accept Christ's call to become his witnesses.
The Liturgical Child
1. Conclude your celebration of Easter by retracing the forty days of Easter. Reread several of the Easter lessons, matching them with different movements within your worship. Example:
John 20:1-10 (empty tomb)
Hymn: "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today"
John 20:24-29 (Thomas's encounter with the Risen Christ)
Prayers of Confession and Assurance of Pardon: Pray about ways we fail to live the Easter faith. If you used the Easter tokens, pray a one-sentence prayer about our failures, as highlighted by each use of the tokens. Jesus' response to Thomas becomes our Assurance of Pardon.
John 20:15-19 (Christ calls Peter to "feed my sheep")
Prayers of Petition
Acts 1:1-11 (the Ascension)
Psalm 47 or hymn of praise to Christ
2. Create an Ascension litany celebrating Christ's work and committing yourselves to take up that work as his witnesses. The congregation responds after each statement:
Christ, we will be your witnesses and carry on your work at home, in (your town), and in all the world.
Leader: Jesus, though you were God and Lord of the universe, you were not ashamed to live among us and love us. You even died for us.
Leader: Jesus, you kept an eye out for people who needed healing. You touched lepers, put healing clay on blind eyes, told the lame to stand up and walk, and went looking for the woman who touched your robe, believing you could heal her.
Leader: You made friends with people whom everyone else avoided. You invited yourself to dinner with Zaccheus, the tax-collecting cheat. You included rough fishermen and political troublemakers among your disciples.
Leader: You taught us to forgive and love even our enemies. And you showed us how to do it as you forgave the people who betrayed you, denied you, and killed you.
Leader: When we remember what you said and did, we know you were showing us how good the world could be. Give us the courage and wisdom to follow you.
3. Be aware of end-of-school events, such as special parties or trips, and concerns, such as grades, and the relief that summer is coming. Talk with children about their summer hopes (fun trips and release from homework) and summer fears (new camps, unwelcome baby-sitters or day-care set-ups; or tough kids on the loose in their neighborhoods). Pray about all these events and concerns on the appropriate Sundays.
4. Begin the benediction with a paraphrase of the question asked by the two men in white, "Why are you standing here?" Then send the congregation out to be Christ's witnesses and promise the presence of the Holy Spirit.
1. Tell stories about Christian witnesses. Include stories about people or groups in your church. In telling what was done, help the listeners understand these efforts as responses to Christ's Ascension request that we become witnesses.