For Ascension, whenever and wherever I have been pastor, I have done a children’s illustration with a helium filled balloon. The first time I did it, I gathered the kids (in the middle of the service) and took them out to the front steps of the church, and together we imagined ourselves as Jesus’ disciples, and imagined the balloon to be him (I make sure I have a plain one if I can, otherwise a smiley faced one) and as we are imagining, I release the balloon. That first time was amazing, as we stood and watched the balloon disappear somewhat like Jesus might have.
After that first time, someone objected that the deflated balloon and it’s ribbon might be a hazard to wildlife or other things when it came down (could a combine be ruined by a symbol of Jesus? I don’t know). So the next year I kept the whole thing inside. But there I had not really had a look around before we did it, and so Jesus got tangled in the ceiling fan right away, with some unique sounds from both the fan engine before someone quickly shut it off, and from those spectating the spectacle. It wasn’t effective, in fact it may have shaken the fledgling beliefs of some of the young ones.
In future times and locations, examining for hazards in the likely path of the ascending Jesus balloon became part of preparing to engage the kids in the exercise.
And it was wonderful, when no hazards were encountered! The first time it was successful that way, a new unforeplanned element came to be part of the illustration, namely the guessing when the balloon would return. It was not easy to predict, but many had ideas, and so it became a chance to converse about us not knowing exactly when Jesus will return either.
I tell you, the phenomenon created such an eagerness and desire among the young (at least they were obvious about it) to go to church that parents had to go to the bookstore to see if there was a guide to restraining your children from wanting to attend the building every day of the week. The sight of children rushing in on Sunday morning to see if the balloon was still there was a delight to my eyes. The balloon usually came down within two weeks.
The second last time the illustration was used, I gave up the fun job to a lady from the congregation, so I could sit and watch the kids faces. Oh what fun to see their amazement!
See for yourself: https://www.dropbox.com/s/8cukpedl470hplp/2012-05-20_10-00-05_659.mp4
As long as the balloon stays up, it gives me a chance to talk about Jesus and his expected return. For one or two Sundays, it is fun.
Once, for reasons unknown to me — but I secretly speculate the janitor was not ready for Jesus to return yet — the Janitor of my last church bought a similar fresh balloon, and when the original came down, they released the new one, so we had a THIRD Sunday morning to talk about it. But between the morning and evening service the janitor confessed, so that was the end of that.
And so a helium balloon has stood in for the rising Jesus in a number of places, including where I am now.
It is getting challenging to do, and takes more pre-planning and organizing than it used to, because helium is scarce. Why that is so is an interesting side story you can investigate for yourself if you want.
But this last time I had a new experience. First of all, the actual balloon we used stayed whole for four weeks! I will cherish for a long time the voice of a small girl who ran into church before her family just as we were about to begin the service, and turned and hollered with delight back at her family “Yup, It’s still there!” Ah, to have young ones declaring that Jesus was still in heaven, how awesome!
But then this last Sunday, when I went into the church on the Saturday before, this is what I found: https://www.dropbox.com/s/e8i49a3upn366ge/P1020336.MOV
So, my question is, what does a pastor say when this happens?