Planning Ascension Worship at

Greg Scheer's picture

With Ascension Sunday just two weeks away, you may be wistfully wishing for a fully formed Ascension service to fall from the sky. Wish no longer, my friends. Here it is!

Though the Ascension doesn't enjoy the high profile of celebrations such as Easter, Christmas, or Pentecost, it is nonetheless an important day in the church calendar and a pivotal piece of Christian theology. In a sense, the story of Jesus' humanity is held between the liturgical bookends of Advent and Ascension—in Advent we celebrate God's coming to humankind in Jesus' incarnation, and in the Ascension we marvel as Christ in all his humanity rises to the right hand of God. Why does this matter? James Brumm puts it best in his hymn "God Has Gone Up with Shouts of Joy!"

Christ has gone up, still bearing wounds,
Still bound to race and gender;
His royal robe all crimson blood;
His triumph all surrender.
Now we, though bound to who we are,
Can follow, with our pain and scars,
To Love’s eternal blessing.

A good place to start (whether or not your church follows the lectionary) is to take a look at the lectionary scriptures for the day. Vanderbilt Divinity Library has an excellent online lectionary where we find the Acts 1 and Luke 24 accounts of Jesus' ascension, the passage from Ephesians that describes Christ as seated at the right hand of God (the source of many fine "At the Name of Jesus" songs), and Psalms 47 and 93.

To get a sense of the types of hymns that are available, enter these scripture references into the Hymnary's scripture search (in the left hand Refine Search column under the Texts tab). I usually enter only the book and chapter (not verses), then use the View by: Scripture drop down at the top left hand of the results page. (This keeps me from missing hymns with too narrow of a search, and lets me see which songs are based on which parts of a given chapter.) Not to state the obvious, but this is also a good time to simply type Ascension in the topic search. You can also try some backwards searching. For example, a search for ascension yields many hymns with the related concept of reign. Try searching the topic reign to find more results in a similar vein.

Now that we have a lay of the land, I'm going to recommend some of my favorites. I'll start with the songs the Joyful Noise Orchestra will be leading at Church of the Servant on May 16:

Gathering Hymns:
A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing (I prefer the DEO GRACIAS tune and the narrative, seven verse text as in ELH)
God Has Gone Up with Shouts of Joy!
Lectionary Psalm (Psalm 47):
Clap Your Hands (Yoruban; from the forthcoming Global Songs for Worship)
(a good, published, alternative: Clap Your Hands, All You Nations by John Bell)
Hymn of Response:
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus
Communion (some of the following):
Crown Him with Many Crowns
The First Place
Salvation Belongs to Our God
All Hail the Power of Jesus Name (I'll be using my introduction for strings)
Blessing and Honor (verses 1 and 3)

But there are plenty of other great Ascension songs that may work in your church next Sunday:

At the Name of Jesus (Noel)
At the Name of Jesus (Walker)
Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise
He Is King of Kings
Jesús, Es Mi Rey Soberano/Our King and Our Sovereign, Lord Jesus
Let His Name Be Lifted Up (shameless plug? you bet!)
O Splendor of God's Glory Bright
Rejoice, the Lord Is King
Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart (I like to use the VINEYARD HAVEN tune with this text. It's more difficult, but worth the investment.)

Further reading and resources:

Read the "Songs of the Season" article I wrote for Reformed Worship: Ascension Songs: Looking Beyond Your Hymnal
See six more Ascension services at the CICW website.
Read the Vital Worship Story: Reclaiming the Promise of Ascension
Even more Ascension resources!

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