The Ascension of the Lord is always on a Thursday which means most people never worship around that story. Thus, The Revised Common Lectionary both offers the Ascension story from Acts on the Seventh Sunday of Easter and suggests that worship planners might want to use Ascension Day texts on the Seventh Sunday of Easter at least occasionally. Planning worship around Ascension once a year is an especially good option for children for two reasons:
1. 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.
2. 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.
+ Go to Ascension of the Lord for detailed suggestions about exploring the Ascension Day versions of the story. Look below for ideas about using the other texts of the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
+ Celebrate the last Sunday of Easter season with lots of alleluias in songs, and processing the alleluia banner
+ Also, remember that this may be the last week of school. Actually children feel that rising from one grade to the next is similar to Jesus rising from earth to heaven. They expect their lives in the next grade to be totally different – and hopefully more wonderful. It is an important day to recognize in some way during the congregation’s worship. There is one text-based suggestion below. Go to School is Out!!! (2014) for more general ideas.
The Texts for Today
+ This is the story of the Ascension. Go to Ascension of the Lord for suggestions about
Exploring the Ascension with great artworks – and creating your own
Using batons as props for this story
Hymns that review Jesus’ life and ministry
+ The Roman Catholic lectionary suggests reading only verses 12-14 which tell tells of the disciples gathering to wait together for Pentecost. For children it answers the question what did they do for the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost. They waited and they prayed.
+ Highlight the section on Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed. Before reciting/reading the whole creed together, read the phrases about Jesus stopping to elaborate a little on each phrase. You might offer a teaching picture poster to go with most of them. If you do, lead the congregation through the Jesus phrases pointing to each picture as you go.
With older children note the change in the verb tenses starting with “he sits on the right…” Point out that Jesus is not only in the past. Though he is no longer walking around on the earth, Jesus is very much alive and with us today and in the future.
“Why are you looking up?”+ At the end of the school year and beginning of summer this is a good question for children. The messengers’ point was that God/Jesus is not somewhere off in the sky or in heaven. God/Jesus is all around us, wherever we are – at school, at the pool, on the field, at camp, on vacation, etc. We are to look for signs of God at work everywhere we go and join in the work.
+ Take time to unpack what it means to be a witness.
+ Write WITNESS on a poster in large letters. Together talk about what a witness is and does.
+ A witness tells what he or she saw happen. Discuss the importance of getting the story right and the problems that ensue when one tells a story that did not happen quite that way. This leads to the importance of knowing the Bible teachings and stories very well.
+ Ponder the difficulties of having witnessed something that is hard to share. For example, Jesus told us to love everyone and your friends are teasing a kid in a very unloving way. How is hard to be a witness in this situations?
+ List some of the ways your congregation witnesses. Be sure to include some in which children are active participants.
+ Offer children a coloring sheet divided into sections. Using a map or globe, point out the places the angel named and note that those places were well known in Jesus’ day. Challenge children/all worshipers to label each section of the paper with the name of one part of their world this summer. Invite them to add words or drawings about ways they can witness for Jesus in that place. These might be dropped in a prayer basket, posted on a bulletin board, taped on the altar rail, or posted at home as a reminder to be a witness every day.
+ Sing your way into Ordinary Time with “Lord, I Want to be a Christian” which is simple and familiar or “God of Grace and God of Glory.” Before singing the latter point to the refrain describing it as a good song for the disciples just after the Ascension –and for us today. Either one points us to how we will live in response to the story of Jesus.
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35+ Focus with children on the praises of verses 32 -35. Because these verses pile up rhyming ideas, they lend themselves to reading by different parts of the congregation. Those parts might be the 1. Minister, 2. the choir and 3. the congregation or 1. the choir, 2. one side of the congregation and 3. the other side. Or, you may see another configuration. Before reading it together suggest that this is a psalm the disciples might have sung as they watched Jesus ascend.
U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U
Psalm 68: 32-36
1. Sing to God, kingdoms of the world,
2. sing praise to the Lord,
3. to him who rides in the sky, the ancient sky.
All: Listen to him shout with a mighty roar.
1. Proclaim God’s power;
2. his majesty is over Israel,
3. his might is in the skies.
1. How awesome is God as he comes from his sanctuary—
2. the God of Israel!
3. He gives strength and power to his people.
All: Praise God!
U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U U
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11+ At the simplest these verses point out that Christians may face very hard times. Sing this truth with “Jesus Walked the Lonesome Valley” or “We Shall Overcome.” Neither require much explaining and can be sung on many levels by worshipers of all ages.
+ Display a cross or other work of art from Christians who are facing hard times today. Briefly discuss what they are up against and how their faith shines through it. Pray for them.
+ Using a globe or world map take a prayer trip around the world. Name groups of Christians who are suffering making them real by pointing to where they are on the earth. Pray for them. At the moment I am aware of Christians whose churches are being burned in Egypt and Pakistan, people in African who are being killed just because they are Christians, Christians in Central America standing up for justice. There are of course more.
John 17:1-11+ John does not tell the story of the Ascension. But these verses answer all the questions the Ascension stories answer. The language is so abstract and the sentences so complex that children do not get the message as it is read. But, they can hear it if they are guided though the key phrases.
Acts answers the question “where is Jesus now?” by telling the story of the ascension. John answers the question with Jesus’ words in verse 4 and 5. Jesus says that he has completed what he came to do on earth. Now it is time to go back to God’s presence – back to where he was from the beginning of everything.
Jesus is not leaving us behind. Verses 6 and 10 insist that we and God and Jesus are closely bound together. We belong to each other. We are closer than best friends or even loving family. We are together for always.
Verses 10-11 then point out that Jesus is no longer on earth. We are AND Jesus is turning over his ministry to us. We are witnesses and forgivers and lovers and peacemakers and…. in Jesus’ place.
So some things have changed. We no longer see Jesus walking around and talking on earth. But, some things are still the same. God/Jesus is still with us every bit as closely as when Jesus was on earth. And, in the “after the Ascension” world, we are to take Jesus’ place on earth. (That is not all that new, since God’s people were to be God’s hands and feet all through the Old Testament. The difference is that now we know all the things Jesus taught us and did for us.)
+ Verses 6 - 8 and 11 can be Jesus’ prayer for us at the end of the Advent – Ascension part of the church year and the beginning of Ordinary Time. To help listeners follow all the pronouns, point out before reading it that Jesus is talking to God about his disciples and us.
I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
John 17:6-8,11 (NRSV)+ Pray in response to Jesus’ prayer
God, thank you for coming to us in Jesus of Nazareth. We have heard all that he taught us. We can see what he showed us when he fed the crowds and healed people and made friends with people everyone else ignored. Mostly, we are amazed and deeply thankful for his dying on the cross and rising again. His story is the most important story in our lives. Be with us as we tell that story to others and try to live like he did today and every day of our lives. We pray this in his name. Amen
+ Jesus was praying for us and Christians everywhere. To follow his example, invite children (all worshipers) to create prayers for others on paper. Begin by drawing a large loopy design that covers the whole page leaving big spaces. Write God and/or Jesus in one of the central spaces. Then write names of other people you especially want to pray for and be one with today. Add words and or designs to each space as you pray for the person in it. Worshipers might work simply with pencil or might use colored markers or crayons. (Find Praying In Color or Praying in Color (Kids’ Edition), by Sybil MacBeth, for a more detailed explanation of this way of praying.)