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The Final Beginning: Ascension and Pentecost

About this article

These activities help youth reflect on Jesus's ascension into heaven and Pentecost.

Overview

After Jesus' death, his followers were fearful, angry, grief-stricken, confused, and shattered. About fifty days later, at Pentecost, they were confident, joyful, determined, committed, and passionate. This topic of this session covers the time from the Resurrection until the birth of the new age of the Church, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus' Ascension into heaven and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were two critical events in the life of the early Church, and thus in our life today. In these two activities participants will explore the history and the meaning of these events. They will also reflect on the power of the Holy Spirit in their life.

Outcomes

  • The participants will understand the walk to Emmaus as a moment of recognition for those who are ready to believe in the risen Lord.
  • The participants will explore the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and the feast of Pentecost as historical events that ushered in a new age of the Church.
  • The participants will reflect on the meaning of these events in their own life.

Background Reading

  • Paragraph numbers 659-701 and 731-747 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  • Scriptural connections: Gal. 5:22-26 (Fruit of the Spirit), Eph. 4:1-13 (Unity in the Body of Christ), and Col. 1:15-23 (The supremacy of Christ)
  • Catholic Youth Bible article connections: "Jesus is With Us!" (Luke 24:13-35), "Christ Lives in Us Through the Holy Spirit" (John 14:12-21; 16:12-15), "Send Us Your Spirit" (Acts 1:1-11), and "Pentecost" (Acts 2:1-13)

After the Resurrection (40 minutes)

Preparation

Gather the following items:

Recruit four volunteers to read handout 1. Give them time to practice so it comes off as a dramatized presentation rather than simply a reading.

Review the summary points for the presentation in step 7. Be prepared to share the information with the young people.

  1. Ask the young people to think about how the followers of Jesus must have felt before they knew he had risen. Invite their responses and list them on newsprint without commenting on any of them. Post the newsprint for use later.

    Introduce the session by noting that though Jesus appeared to a number of people after his Resurrection, it took two more life-altering events to move Jesus' Apostles to carry on his mission. These events are the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, and Pentecost.

     

  2. Distribute the Bibles, and divide the young people into small groups of four to six people. Explain the following directions:
    • You are in charge of shooting a movie about the Acts of the Apostles
    • Your current project is to plan the scene portraying the Ascension of Jesus.
    • Read the account in Acts 1:6-11.
    • Then discuss as a group two details about the scene:
      • How will you portray Jesus' departure? (It can be literal or symbolic.)
      • What background music will you use?
      Allow about 10 minutes for them to plan the scene, then invite the groups to share their ideas with one another.

     

  3. Conduct a presentation on the Ascension based on the bullet points below, which are taken from pages 89-91 of The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth (CFH): )
    • A dramatic event in the life of Jesus occurs after the Resurrection. It is captured in this phrase of the Nicene Creed: "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father."
    • The Gospel authors had a hard time putting this event into words. Matthew and John do not mention it at all. In Mark it simply says, "So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God" (16:19). Luke says, "While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven" (24:51). The author of Luke continues with a slightly longer version of the Ascension at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (See1:6-12).
    • These Gospel accounts describe an event that is beyond human comprehension. Many people in the ancient world believed that a layer of water covered the sky and was the physical boundary of the universe. Once you got past those waters, you were in heaven. So it made sense to think that if Jesus were joining his Father in heaven he would have to rise into the sky and travel past the waters.
    • Today we know that there is no layer of water over the sky and that heaven doesn't lie just outside our atmosphere. However, that doesn't change the reality the Gospel writers were trying to address: that after spending time with some of his faithful followers after his Resurrection, Jesus left this world to be with his Father in heaven.
    • What does this mean for the human race?
    • First, it means that all humanity now has the possibility of spending eternity with God in heaven. After his Ascension into heaven, Jesus remains fully God and fully man--he did not give up his human nature even though his mission had been accomplished. By honoring our humanity, Christ has opened the doors to heaven for us all, overcoming the final barriers separating humanity from God. In heaven Jesus' resurrected body assumed its full glory, as will ours.
    • Second, it means that in a strangely paradoxical way, Jesus can be more present to us now than before his Ascension. Before his final Ascension, Jesus was still somehow limited by time and space. This seems to be indicated by Jesus' mysterious words to Mary Magdalene, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father" (John 20:17). After his Ascension Jesus is no longer limited to being in one place at one particular time. He is free to be everywhere, with everyone, for all time!

    Try This

    • If time allows, invite the groups to compare the accounts in Acts 1:6-11, Luke 24:50-53, and Mark 16:19-20.
    • Before the young people plan their scene, read the account of Jesus' Ascension into heaven in Acts 1:6-11. Ask the young people how the followers of Jesus must have felt after this event, after having Jesus with them for forty days. List their responses on newsprint and post them next to the first list.

     

  4. Refer to Jesus' promise to the Apostles in Acts 1:8: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . ." Read the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. Explain that this event is the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to his closest followers.

     

  5. Assign each small group one of the following passages:
    • Acts 2:5-13
    • Acts 2:14-21
    • Acts 2:22-28
    • Acts 2:29-36
    • Acts 2:37-42
    • Acts 2:43-47
    Tell them to read through the passage and come up with three words or phrases that describe the followers of Jesus after Pentecost. Allow about 5 minutes for them to complete their work.

     

  6. Ask the groups to call out the words and phrases that describe the disciples after Pentecost. Keep a running list on newsprint.

    When the list is complete, post it next to the list the teens brainstormed at the beginning of the session. Ask them to compare what Jesus' followers were like after his death with what they were like after Pentecost. Note that after Pentecost they were filled with the Spirit of God, which enabled them to move forward to continue the work they had been called to do.

     

  7. Conduct a presentation on Pentecost based on the summary points below, which are taken from pages 94-95 of the CFH:
    • The most dramatic manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures is recorded at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.
    • Jesus had ascended into heaven, and the Apostles, with some of the women disciples, were waiting for the Spirit that Jesus had promised.
    • Here's how the story continues:
      And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?" (2:2-8)
    • This event is called Pentecost, and the name is taken from a Jewish feast with the same title.
    • The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Pentecost approximately fifty days after Easter. You may hear people call it the birthday of the Catholic Church, for it was on this day that the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the courage to preach the message of Jesus Christ and to baptize those who believed.
    • Those who were baptized created communities, to share their new faith in Christ with one another.

     

  8. Close by inviting someone to read the description in Acts 2:43-47 of the Christian community after Pentecost. Challenge the young people to reflect on the following questions for the next few days:
    • What is it that you need to do and want to do, but are afraid to do?
    • What gift did the Spirit of the risen Jesus give his followers that you also need?
    • What is your prayer?

    Try This

    • Read "Christian Community" in The Catholic Youth Bible and discuss the questions posed in the article. It can be found near Acts 2:43-47.
    • Create a card for each person with the three reflection questions. Distribute the cards at the end of the session and encourage the teens to post their card in a place where they will see the questions often.
    • Before offering the final questions for reflection, lead a discussion of this question: What is the Good News that you want to proclaim to the world?

The Walk to Emmaus (15 minutes)

This activity is best used after the opening brainstorming activity in the previous session.

Preparation

Gather the following items:

 

  1. Recruit four volunteers to read the handout and give them time to practice so it comes off as a dramatized presentation rather than simply a reading.
  2. Explain to the teens that they will hear a story from the Gospel of Luke that recounts the experience of two followers who meet Jesus on the road. Invite the four volunteers you recruited before the session to present the story "The Walk to Emmaus."
  3. Lead a large-group discussion of the following questions:
    • What prevented the disciples from recognizing Jesus right away?
    • Why did the two disciples want Jesus to stay with them?
    • Have you ever had an experience when you discovered something important in a surprising way? Describe it.
    • What was that discovery for Cleopas and his friend?
    • What does it mean to have one's heart burn within oneself?
    • Does the story take on a different meaning for you if you imagine that the companion of Cleopas was a family member, such as his wife, or perhaps teenage son or daughter?
    Offer this last question for reflection only:
    • What fears, frustrations, questions, or doubts do you hold in your heart right now that you would like to talk to Jesus about?
  4. Briefly make the following point in your own words:
    • After Jesus' death, his followers experienced a variety of emotions, such as fear, anger, grief, sadness, weariness, confusion, betrayal, and many more.
  5. Remind the young people of the reflection question posed earlier:
    • What fears, frustrations, questions, or doubts do you hold in your heart right now that you would like to talk to Jesus about? Encourage them to keep that question in mind for the rest of the week and to talk to Jesus about it in their moments of quiet and stillness.
    • What signs of God's presence have you noticed recently? Keep a running list in your journal. Include pictures or other mementos to remind you of God's constant presence in your life.
    • When have you been inspired by the Holy Spirit to do something that made a positive difference in someone's life--even your own?

Acknowledgments

(These activities are adapted from Jesus: His Mission and Message, a core course in the Horizons series, by Thomas Zanzig [Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press, 1996], pages 76-82. Copyright © 1996 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this activity to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. This activity may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order this book, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or visit our online catalog at www.smp.org/catalog.cfm.)

Published March 20, 2004.