The Revised Common Lectionary suggests that worship planners might want to use the texts for the Ascension of the Lord instead of those for the Seventh Sunday of Easter on this day occasionally. Since the Ascension of the Lord always falls on a Thursday and so is missed by most worshipers that is a good idea. It is an especially good option for children for two reasons:
- The Ascension story answers the child’s question, “where is Jesus now?” His life walking around on the earth is over, but he lives with God and continues to love the whole world from there. As he left, he clearly passed the baton to his disciples – and to us.
- As you complete the cycle of liturgical seasons about Jesus’ life and passion (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter), Ascension Day is a chance for worship review (How did we follow and celebrate Jesus in each season?) and a peek ahead to the rest of the liturgical year.
Given the texts for the Seventh Sunday in this year, I think celebrating the Ascension of the Lord is an especially good idea and have already posted ideas for that at Year C - The Ascension of the Lord. But, since many will use the Seventh Sunday texts, here are some ideas.
U This is a long complicated story! Even though there is lots of action it is hard for even older children to keep up with what is going on. Healings, earthquakes, and beatings are hard to pantomime without getting a little silly. And, the text does not seem to me to lend itself to a helpful reading script. Sill I would not count on younger worshipers sticking with it when it is read straight through. Probably the best way to share it is to read it stopping to comment as you go. It might even be the format for a two preacher sermon with one reading from the text and the other interrupting to comment and perhaps even discuss a point with the reader. One theme that runs through the story is God’s power. So stopping to comment on how God does and does not use power in the story as it is read would be an interesting possibility.
U See the idea below for the congregation reciting Psalm 97 pretending to be locked in stocks with Paul and Silas.
U The Roman Catholic lectionary omits verses 10-12 leaving a prayer focused on praising God’s great power. It is the sort of prayer Paul and Silas might have prayed in prison. To get into the spirit of their uncomfortable situation that night, recall their beating at the hands of the mob that day, then instruct worshipers to hold their hands out in front of them as if in handcuffs and raise their feet off the floor. In that pose challenge them to say each line of the psalm back to you after you say it aloud. Set the tone, saying phrases loudly and with conviction - as if you really mean them.
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
U This text can be presented as a summary of John’s message in Revelation and as a code test. After reading the whole text, reread it stopping at each code that you have discussed over recent weeks, recalling what it means. Worshipers should recognize the alpha and omega, the people wearing washed robes, and the city with the tree of life. The summary of the decoded message is simply “Jesus wins!” There are times when it looks like the bad guys are winning, but in the end Jesus wins totally and completely.
If you introduce the Bride, simply present it as John’s code for the church. Avoid explaining why Bride is a good code for church. Instead focus on what the Bride does in this text – the Bride and the Spirit invite guests to Jesus’ big final party.
U Some of the coded symbols here bring Advent and Easter together. Point them out noting that they are both what is hoped for during Advent and what is here now at Easter. To celebrate the connection …
U Sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Have the choir sing the sad sounding Advent verses and the congregation sing the Easter happy choruses. Even change the tense of the verb in the chorus to emphasize the Easter joy, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!” For extra effect give the children or whole congregation purple/blue, white and gold shakers or streamers to shake while singing the chorus.
U Bring out both the Advent and Lenten stoles. Compare the colors and the symbols on them – especially if the symbols appear in today’s Revelation reading. Either drape them both in full view or wear both stoles today in response to this reading.
U Dig out the Chrismon ornaments that appear in today’s reading – alpha - omega, star of David, and cross over the world. Display the symbols pinned to a piece of green fabric or hung on a flowering branch or shrub. Talk briefly about each one, then read the Revelation verses again challenging listeners to raise a hand when they hear each one mentioned. (The cross over the world is not mentioned in so many words, but is implied in the message.)
U Celebrate the end of the Easter season and the reading of the last verse of the Bible by inviting the children forward to help you with the benediction. Show them the verse at the very end of the Bible. Then invite them to repeat that verse in phrases as you say them as the benediction. Define “grace” as Jesus’ forgiving, powerful, with us always, no matter where love” and “saints” simply as us and all Christians everywhere.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ // be with
all the saints. // Amen
U (For those in the US) This may be the one possible Mothers’ Day/Festival of the Christian Family connection in these texts. We are born into a family. In baptism we become part of God’s big family. Much as we would like to, we cannot be Christian on our own. We both know God’s love and follow Jesus in our everyday relationships with those closest to us. Knowing that living in community is not easy, Jesus prays for his disciples and for us. That prayer is for household families, the church family, and God’s world-wide family.
U Children (and many other listeners!) quickly get lost in John’s repeated phrases and pronouns. To help everyone keep up, begin by setting the scene – Jesus is praying for his disciples who are sitting around him at a dinner table on the night before he will be killed. The disciples (and we) are the “them” and “those” in this prayer. For children, verse 21 is really all they need. If you walk them through that verse putting phrases into your own words as you go, they’ll have the basic prayer.
I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me. (TEV)
U To explore UNITY write the letters of the word on separate poster sheets. Give one letter to each child. Stand those children in letter order where all can see them and their letters. Briefly define unity. Then move one child and letter off to the side. Ask whether we still have unity. Discuss the fact that no matter how much trouble the letter (or the person holding it) causes or how we wish it/he/she wasn’t there, we still need it/him/her. We can’t have unity without it. End by pulling the child/letter back into the line with a hug and celebrating UNITY that includes them and every one of us. (This could also be done using the words PEACE or CHURCH. Be sure that the letter you remove does not leave you with a word that will sidetrack your listeners.)
U “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” with its repeated phrases is easy for children to join in on, especially if the first phrase of each verse is pointed out in the hymn books before the congregation sings the song. As you invite children to join in the singing, note that this is a song many of the current children’s parents sang often when they were teenagers. Urge parents to tell their children about those times on the way home from worship today.
U Two “children’s” books focus on this theme in slightly different ways.
God’s Dream, by Desmond Tutu, insists that God dreams of unity for all God’s people and works through times when we fuss and fight to achieve it. You could read the whole book in about 5 minutes. Or, skip the introduction starting with “Do you know what God dreams about? If you close your eyes…” and reading through “And when we love one another, the pieces of God’s heart are made whole.” (Read this part aloud in 2 minutes – unless you stop along the way to talk.) The remainder of the book deals with people of all races and cultures being friends and might be saved for another day.
NOTE: If you read the last part of the book on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, recall its hope that all people of the world will get along before reading today’s section about how hard that can be.
Old Turtle, by Douglas Wood, is one of those classic children’s picture book stories that are meant for all ages. Most of it is devoted to arguments about what God is like. The resolution of the argument comes when all beings realize that God is bigger than any one idea and that they can see God in each other even with their differences and disagreements. If you are delving into all the polarization in the world today and John’s call for unity, this would be a good summary story even though it takes over five minutes to read aloud. If you do read it, practice giving different voices to the different speakers to help children follow the conversation. Also, if you use projections in worship, this would be a wonderful candidate for the “buy the book, scan the art for projecting, keep your promise to the author and illustrator to never let another person borrow the slides” process for sharing picture books so all can see.