Ascension Day is one of three holy days that did not fall on a Sunday that John Wesley kept in his adaptation of the Book of Common Prayer, so we want to take notice of the meaning of Ascension Day in our lives. Children notice everything! They are always watching other people and learning from their behavior, observing their environments, noticing what has changed, looking for interesting objects, and putting all that they see into their memories. This is an amazing power that children have, and, with the proper lens, adults can enjoy the benefits. Children also know that, many times, they must wait for things. They must wait for their turn to use a toy, wait for dinner to be ready, wait for the bus, wait to go outside, and so on. Most of the time, children do not like waiting. Many children are impulsive and want immediate gratification.
Children and adults can talk about their feelings related to surprises. Consider the surprise of the disciples when Jesus ascended. When we talk about Jesus’ ascension, children can easily relate to the waiting involved. They disciples waited for Jesus’ resurrection, waited for understanding of the parables, and waited for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We, as Christians, are still waiting for Christ’s triumphant return. How do we help children and families develop a deeper understanding of the importance of Ascension Sunday? Frame the events through the lenses of waiting, watching, and surprise!
Search Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:36-53
Read Acts 1:6-11 to children from the Common English Bible or one of the simple translations recommended from Discipleship Ministries’ Ministry with Children, emphasizing the importance of watching and waiting. Ponder some of these questions with children, and follow up with an activity.
• I wonder what the disciples heard when Jesus was taken into Heaven.
• I wonder how the disciples felt when they watched Jesus ascending into Heaven.
• I wonder what the disciples said to one another when the ascension happened.
• I wonder how the disciples felt when Jesus said that he would not tell them when he would return to earth.
• I wonder if the disciples wanted to do anything else besides stay in the Upper Room and pray when they waited for Holy Spirit to come.
• I wonder what Jesus said when he was blessing the disciples as he was taken up to Heaven.
• I wonder what surprises you have had like the disciples’ surprise when Jesus ascended.
Use music as a way for children to connect with the ascension of Jesus. Recordings are available in a variety of platforms online. Make a joyful noise!
• “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” by Christelijke Kinderliedjes
• “I’ll Fly Away” (The Faith We Sing, 2282; Songs of Zion, 183)
• “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above” (United Methodist Hymnal, 126)
Read the Apostles’ Creed together. Point out the phrase “he ascended into heaven” in the Apostles’ Creed. Help children to see how Jesus’ ascension is a protective presence in our lives. Singing the hymn “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above” (UMH 126) together will help children make the connection.
Encourage families to discover the meaning of the ascension in daily life
Children have a keen spiritual connection to our God. When they are in supportive environments, they can articulate what they talk about with God and what concerns they have. Because children are naturally curious and observant, they will notice injustices and inequities in daily life. They begin to question why events happen and why certain people act in malevolent ways. The want to see suffering end, just as adults do. Jesus has promised to return again; and at that time, the wrongs will be righted. What a glorious time that will be!
Families Create Together
Families can make a special photo album that includes pictures that depict what they see God doing in the world and what they are waiting for God’s love to heal in the world. This can be added to throughout the year and help to generate a family prayer list.
Families can watch and wait. Send children and families home with packets of sticky notes. Encourage them make two piles of notes as they go through the week: one pile for situations where they can feel Jesus close to them, and one pile for situations that they want to see God breathe his holy love into. Encourage them to bring the sticky notes to church for a display on Ascension Sunday. Post two pieces of butcher paper in the narthex or gathering area of the church. One should be labeled “WAITING: To Keep in Prayer and to Work on Improving,” and one should be labeled “WATCHING: Spreading God’s Love.”
Families can connect to the element of surprise. Using the same pack of sticky notes, encourage families to jot down ways that God surprises them throughout the week. We may not experience the same level of surprise as the disciples did at the ascension, but God is still working in this world and doing awesome things!
Reminder: Be sensitive to family dynamics.
Consider supplying the children with eyeglasses and clocks printed on card stock. Invite them to make notes (either written or drawn) about what they noticed during the Ascension Sunday worship service that addresses watching and waiting, just as the disciples did. What would you want to hear Jesus say in a blessing?
Elizabeth Christie is a teacher and children’s minister in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. She leads webinars and writes resources on engaging families and children with special needs. Adapted for use on Discipleship Ministries website by Melanie C. Gordon.