"I think perhaps it is no small thing that Christ - even in his resurrected form - chose to spend his last days walking on terra firma with his friends and family."
Walking on Terra Firma
Over and over in the scriptures, we read of Jesus and his disciples walking. Walking, walking, walking. Across the desert and back again. Up hills and down into valleys. Out of this town and into this one. Frankly, just thinking about it makes me tired. Nowhere in the Gospels is there a single account of Christ riding in a chariot or on a horse or camel, and only on once does he ride on a donkey. Jesus chose to walk. He chose to plant two feet on the hard earth, putting one foot in front of the other, participating in the one of the more common bodily experiences - walking.
Not only did he choose to partake in this ordinary physical activity, but he chose to do so in the context of community. Everywhere in the Gospels, we see Jesus with his family in tow - disciples, friends, followers, his brother and mother - they are all there, walking alongside him, and trailing behind.
Let's Get Out!
Getting outside and walking or hiking is not something that most of us take time to do, especially as a family or community. Some people walk or jog as part of a fitness routine, others live in communities where walking is part of daily life. But often walking is done in a rush, always trying to beat the clock. Most of us have lost touch with our vulnerability as part of creation. Riding in our temperature controlled cars or in mass transportation, we are insulated and cut-off from the very earth we come from.
In our daily lives, most of us are disconnected from our place as part of the whole. Instead of seeing ourselves as a part of God's great creation, we function as if we are the sum total, giving little thought to the spiritual implications that come when we stay inside and stay apart.
Walking as Communal
I think perhaps it is no small thing that Christ - even in his resurrected form - chose to spend his last days walking on terra firma with his friends and family. Walking outdoors, in community, connects us to the larger world and to one another. When we walk in a group, everyone must work to keep track of each other, and care for those who lag behind or are injured. There needs to be someone to answer the million questions of the preschooler, sing soothing songs to the baby in the backpack, inspect every rock with the second-grader, prod the teenager to unplug the ear buds to listen for the waterfall, and hold grandmother's hand across the narrow creek bed.
Walking together creates a bond of a shared experience, a deeper understanding of what it means to rely upon each other, and a greater appreciation of our place in the story of creation. The same can be said of sharing meals, doing housework, mowing the yard, and planting a garden. In these ordinary activities, we reflect Jesus. Where does Christ appear to his disciples during the forty days between his resurrection and ascension? Along the road, at meals, in the garden. And what does he say to them before he leaves?
Go into the world, spread the Good News to all of creation (Mark 16:15).
And so they go. Together. Into the world, into creation, proclaiming good news. What better way to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension than by doing the same? As Barbara Brown Taylor writes in An Altar in the World: "What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them."
Three "Ordinary" Ways to Celebrate Ascension
1. Go on a Family Hike: Scripture tells us that Christ spent his last days walking with his disciples, and hiking to the top of the mountain called Olivet. To commemorate this trek, take your family on a hike or a trail walk and work to help your kids connect the dots between your adventure and Christ's final walk. Talk about Christ's final message to his followers: to go out into creation to proclaim the Good News. What is the Good News? How do you know it is Good News? How can you communicate that to all of creation (i.e. the dirt under your feet, the water, the sky, the creepy crawlers and furry critters)?
Scripture to read
Luke 24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
Acts 1:12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they they were walking into the country.
Questions for Wondering
If you were going to go on one last hike, which family and friends would you bring? Where would you go?
Why do you think Jesus walked everywhere? What is the difference between walking along your street and driving in a car or riding a bicycle?
What does humility mean? What does it look like in your life?
2. Fly Kites: One of the great images that Ascension Day brings is that of Christ rising into the heavens. Making and/or flying kites is a fun way to celebrate this mysterious and miraculous event. (If you want to make your own, I love this great in-depth tutorial.) Help kids connect the story of Christ rising into the clouds with the beauty of a kite flying. Even though we know scientifically how kites fly, there is still something magical, mysterious, beautiful, and special about the site of a kite batting back and forth on a invisible breeze, tail twirling in the wind. Talk about how the disciples must have felt seeing Jesus rise to heaven. What emotions would they have felt (nervous, sad, excited, inspired…?) Have you ever seen something amazing or unexplainable happen? What were your emotions?
Scripture to read
Acts 1: 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
Mark 16:19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
Questions for Wondering
If you could ask God one thing, what would it be?
The scripture verses around this story tell us that Jesus was joined in the sky by his spiritual ancestors, Moses and Elijah. Who are your spiritual ancestors? (Family members, mentors, pastors, saints, favorite artist..)
3. Share a Picnic: I think it is safe to say that Christ found great value in sharing meals with family and friends. Not only did he choose to spend his last night around a table, breaking bread and drinking wine, he also chose to do the same in the days following his resurrection. And if we are to live as Jesus lived, I guess we better make sure we are intentionally sharing meals in community. Which is why a picnic is the perfect meal for your Feast of the Ascension. Jesus and his disciples often ate outdoors. What could be a better way to proclaim the good news to all of creation, than to enjoy the bounty of God’s provision in the great outdoors? (Want to make something other than sandwiches and chips for your feast? Try these picnic menus and recipes.) While you are picnicking, take a moment to remember the meals Christ shared with his community. What is the significance of him choosing to spend his last days walking and eating with his friends? What would you do on your last days, if you could choose?
Scripture to read
Mark 16:14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table;
Luke 24:41-43 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Questions for Wondering:
Research shows that it is important for families to share meals around a table, away from media devices. Why do you think this is? If you do this as a family, do you find it challenging? What do enjoy the most about those times around the table?
Who would you like to share a meal with? What would you serve? What questions would you ask your guest?
What is the connection between Jesus eating meals with his friends and the Church's observance of Holy Communion?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer is a writer, speaker, nest-fluffer, novice farm-gal, and author of A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together. She is also the Minister to Children, Youth, and Families at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Conway, Arkansas. Jerusalem lives with her husband and two sons on a little farm in Shady Grove, Arkansas. As a family, they are attempting to live a slower version of modern life. She blogs about all of this and more at http://jerusalemgreer.com
Did you enjoy this article? Consider subscribing to Building Faith and get every new post by email. It’s free and always will be. Subscribe to Building Faith.