This worship outline is adapted from the opening service of the “With a Shout: What Difference Does the Ascension Make for Everyday Life?” conference held on Ascension Day 2006 at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Litanies and prayers marked TWS are from The Worship Sourcebook, 2004, Faith Alive Christian Resources (www.faithaliveresources.org).
This is a service of celebration for Ascension Day. Parts of the service might also be used on Ascension Sunday. It requires at least one leader and a Scripture reader. The congregation speaks the lines in bold.
Christ’s ascension is a pretty big deal. Saint Luke includes detailed accounts of Jesus’ instruction, blessing, and supernatural departure in both the ending of his “first book” (Luke 24:44-53) and the beginning of his “second book” (Acts 1:1-11). And those in the Reformed tradition stress the importance of Christ’s ascension as a witness and guarantee of our own resurrection as well as a call to evangelism, justice, and compassion (see, for example, Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 46-52).
Note: This litany has been adapted from Psalm 20:6, Revelation 5:12, and Romans 8:34.
Loving God, merciful Father, we wonder at your surpassing goodness, but we are discouraged by the evil we see in this world and in ourselves. We long to be your humble and faithful servants, but we always fall short. Even when we think we are doing your will, we are often deceived. How long before you bring an end to the world’s suffering?
How long, O Lord?
Reader 1: Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. (Isa. 46:9)
Reader 2: I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. (Isa. 46:10a)
Reader 1: We remember Christmas—the former time when Jesus, the Son of God, was born in human flesh, emptied of his glory.
Sing! A New Creation includes a delightful little sung meditation by John Bell of the Iona Community that has as its opening line, “Take, O take me as I am; summon out what I shall be” (SNC 215).
Our God goes up with shouts of joy!
Our Lord ascends to the sound of trumpets!
All: Sing praises to our God, sing praises!
Sing praises, sing praises to our King!
The Almighty rides in triumph.
The Almighty leads captivity captive.
Who shouts for joy?
It seems to me that people are no longer asking the question to which the ascension is the answer. For the Reformed tradition, the doctrine of God’s transcendence, God’s otherness, God’s glory, and God’s sovereignty are central, coupled with an awareness of God as our Creator, the one for whom we are made. Such an understanding of God raises the need for a mediator as our most profound existential question.
Last year three pastors of neighboring churches wanted to help our congregations celebrate Ascension Day as a high point of the Christian year. We decided to hold a combined service the Sunday before Ascension Day (Ascension Day is May 25 in 2006), and publicized it as a coronation service.