(Note this is the text for a sermon for Reconciler's first worship service to include children throughout the service.)
Today we celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ. Jesus goes up into heaven. How does Jesus go up? Like a balloon filled with Helium? (Give balloon(s) to one or two children and ask them to hold on to it. And tell them to wait that you will ask them to let them go in a few minutes.) Like a kite on the wind. And what does it meant that Jesus went up, ascended? Look at the various icons and drawings of Jesus’ ascension what is going on in those pictures? What is Jesus doing besides being in the air? Jesus is sitting, and there is a footstool. This is important. But Jesus also is blessing the disciples. Do you see different responses of the disciples?
In the two stories of Jesus’ ascension we heard today Jesus doesn’t just go up into the sky. Jesus also Promises that the Spirit will come after Jesus leaves. We are not left alone by Jesus’ leaving, God is still with us, and oddly enough more with us than when he lived and walked with the disciples in Galilee and Jerusalem. How do you feel when Parents leave for to go out with out you? What if your parents didn’t leave you with a baby sitter or someone you know a friend or other family member but left you with their presence but in a different form: that would be odd but nice wouldn’t it? Jesus has left but is still with us, so not like when parents leave and leave you with someone else. Jesus leaves goes up into the clouds; Yet Jesus is more with us. So then How are we to understand Jesus Going up and yet remaining with us perhaps more present and we more present to God through Jesus Christ, not just through the coming of the Holy Spirit, but because Jesus Christ ascended.
(Tell the Children to let the balloons go) How does it feel to let a balloon go? What if you were outside and let it go up into the sky. So Jesus goes up kind of like a balloon but Heaven isn't in the sky- (Angels in the ceiling) Metaphor of up. Up can mean other things than simply above our heads. We might say when we are feeling good that we are feeling up today. And when we feel sad we may say that we are feeling down. What does up and down say when we use them in this way. Up means we feel good happy joyful, like a balloon floating along easily in the air. When we feel down we feel like we are dragging along the floor like a balloon that has lost its air. There are other meanings of Up. I might say that something that was said was over my head. (Children when parents are talking about things you may not understand completely and are talking to each other they aren’t looking at you they are looking and speaking over your head), so it means I may not fully understand, there is more to what is said than I know or can understand.
So When Luke speaks of Jesus Christ going up and disappearing from view in the clouds, there is more than just that Jesus actually went up into the air. We know God and heaven isn't in space hovering just outside the air surrounding the earth. Up doesn't mean in space, and so the Russian Cosmonaut who went into space and radioed back that he didn't see anybody in space, was looking in the wrong place. So, then Why did Jesus go up?
Being up can literally mean being able to be seen and heard better by a group of people, so a preacher may go up into the pulpit. (Actually go up into the pulpit) If I go up into this old large pulpit I can see you all better but I am also more distant. However if we were in a much larger space Like in the sanctuary next to us, or if the chapel was filled with people, being up if you are in the back or in the front you can see me and hear me just as well. , where as if I am down with everyone those who are closest to me can hear me and see me. (Go down during this sentence) When we say God is up in heaven we mean not that God is in the clouds or in space but that God is in a place where God sees and is aware of everything and that God is able to know each and everyone of us. We also mean that God is both different than we are as human beings. God is above us above our heads; we can’t know everything about god or understand God completely. God speaks over our heads. And yet we can all hear God in heaven no matter who we are. Like being in a pulpit that is raised up so everyone can see and hear the preacher
Jesus Christ ascends, goes up, to God Jesus' Father in heaven like going up into a pulpit and not like helium filled balloons going up into the ceiling or sky. Jesus goes up because Jesus is God and human. Jesus goes up to teach us that God will always be with us and one of us in Jesus Christ who is God and human. In Jesus Christ we are already with God, because God in Jesus Christ is the same as God the father, yet different. We are already with God because Jesus Christ is human and Jesus’ humanity, our humanity in Jesus Christ is with God and is God. This is difficult to understand, it is over all our heads. God showed the first disciples and us that Jesus was both God and human by Jesus going up into the sky and withdrawing into heaven even though heaven isn't actually up.
Since heaven isn’t actually up but heaven is the place from which God is always present everywhere. So, we enter heaven here when we worship, and especially when we go up to the altar and pray over the bread and wine of communion and then receive Jesus Christ in the bread and wine.
So we don't look literally up, and so the angels question the disciples as they stand staring up into the sky. We don't wait to go up into the sky. We live in the world confident that Jesus Christ went to heaven and is with God the Father because Jesus Christ is God. Because of the ascension Jesus, now in heaven, is more present to each and every one of us than he was when he lived and walked in Galilee and Jerusalem. Through the Spirit and the bread and wine of communion Jesus is with us and hears us and we can see him at work in us. Don't look up, but wait and see how God shows God’s self to you in bread and wine and in the presence of the Spirit of Christ, the promised Holy Spirit, in yourself and in others. Heaven is not up in the sense of being somewhere in the sky, but as that place available to everyone. Heaven is that place where God and Jesus Christ can speak and be present to us all, aware of all that takes place in the universe and still present to you and able to speak to you an be with you. Knowing this, seeing Christ ascend, then brings the joy of knowing that God is always with us and beyond our grasp.