- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

It gives new meaning to the phrase “He has risen.”

The sky should get interesting some time around Easter when an 80-foot hot air balloon rises over the landscape of Western New York, bearing a smiling portrait of Jesus Christ familiar to many as “The Risen Christ by the Sea,” a painting by artist Jack Jewell.

“It is one of the few caricatures of Christ where he is smiling with glee. It perfectly captures the essence of the good news — that he has conquered death and has forged a pathway for every person to be saved from their sins. It shows him as the loving Lord, triumphant victor, after a gruesome crucifixion and death in payment for our sins,” states Sky Sail Balloons, which is shepherding along the project, now called the “Risen Balloon.”

And it is quite a project.

The portrait itself will be reproduced on a 60-foot-by-40-foot panel on a passenger balloon with a volume of 105,000 cubic feet, constructed of 2,000 square yards of fabric and powered by propane.

The steel and rattan basket can carry four passengers. Sky Sail has already secured the exclusive rights for the image from The Joyful Noiseletter, a Christian publication that emphasizes the good-natured comedy of everyday life.

Chief pilot and founder Geoff Turner is a particular fan of the portrait.

“It will be the mission of the Risen Balloon to be an ambassador to the world, presenting a friendly, heartwarming view of Christianity — and the good news,” he said, citing the biblical text John 15:11.

The inaugural flight will rise aloft somewhere around April 5 — Easter Sunday — near the company’s home base in Ashville, New York, Mr. Turner said.

He has an eye on public festivals as well.

“We suspect there would be some communities that would not welcome a Christian message of any sort. Actually, it is rarely the community so much as a hypersensitive organizer looking to accommodate a small vocal group who think the Constitution insures their right to be free from the public display of any religious message,” Sky Sail tells potential customers.

“Frequently, if a community speaks up in support of such displays, the naysayers shrink back into the shadows, and organizers allow a religious-sponsored balloon. We encourage you to invite us and allow us to gently encourage the grass-roots support that wins the day.”

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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