Forty days after Easter (so, this Thursday, June 2nd in 2011) is the day we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. Most churches celebrate it on Sunday, so feel free to be flexible with the day. The following Sunday (10 days after Ascension) we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the church and the end of the season of Easter. Ascension and Pentecost remind us that we are part of a continuing story that did not end with Christ’s resurrection, and by celebrating at home, we connect our lives, churches and stories with the narrative of the church.
The most critical element of Ascension Day is helping kids to understand what happened. Reading the account in Acts 1 (verses 1-11) is a good way to remind them. Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to his disciples several times, and then ascended into heaven where he remains, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, serving as our advocate.
Good hymns to sing would be “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing” originally in Latin by the Venerable Bede, which can be set to the same tune as “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “On Christ’s Ascension I Now Build” which has a familiar Lutheran/Bach tune.
Many people take hikes up to the top of a hill near their city to commemorate the Ascension. I have seen it suggested several places to use helium filled balloons, such as releasing a group of white balloons with one colored balloon (green could represent everlasting life). Watching them drift onward and upward is a way to remember the Ascension.
Looking at paintings of the Ascension (like this one) are good conversation starters. What would it have been like to be there? On Ascension day there was one last promise of the Holy Spirit. You could wrap a small gift for the family to leave out until Pentecost. Any food that reminds one of clouds, from marshmallows to anything cut in a cloud shape, would be very festive. There is an old Anglican tradition of beating the bounds of the parish that would be cool for neighborhood oriented churches or small groups to use as a creative launch pad, such as walking around the bounds of your area together and praying for all who live there.
The account of Pentecost is found in Acts 2. It is equally important for children to hear and understand, a critical piece of the story of Christianity. Be sure to make a connection so that they understand the Holy Spirit that descended like fire is still here with us today.
It is traditional in many churches to wear red on Pentecost. It is a feast day, so it would be appropriate to gather and share a meal with members of your church. Some people take the fire theme to heart and grill out!
As it is the birth of the church, and fire is a huge part of the imagery of the story, a cake with candles could be very appropriate. You could decorate with candles and red streamers. I think we are going to bust out some sparklers if I can find them. We will also paint some pictures of the imagery of the story. It’s easy and fun to do crafts that represent flames. It might be neat to make different flames and label them with the fruits of the spirit.
Appropriate hymns include “Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest” and “Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart.” You can download mp3s with the tunes we use at our current church from Cardiphonia and check out some more Pentecost hymns.
Do you have any ideas for celebrating Ascension or Pentecost?