Psalms of Ascent

A Service of Song and Prayer for Lent

"A psalm is the blessing of the people, the praise of God, the commendation of the multitude, the applause of all, the speech of every man, the voice of the Church, the sonorous profession of faith, devotion full of authority, the joy of liberty, the noise of good cheer, and the echo of gladness. It softens anger, it gives release from anxiety, it alleviates sorrow; it is protection at night, instruction by day, a shield in time of fear, a feast of holiness, the image of tranquility, a pledge of peace and harmony."

Ambrose of Milan (ca. 339–397), The Explanation of the Psalms i.7

In the spring of 2018 a group of artists from Holland, Michigan, through Cardiphonia Music and Bellwether Arts, helped compile art from across the country to create liturgy for Lent and Holy Week inspired by the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120–134).

The project started a number of years ago when Bruce Benedict, founder of Cardiphonia and chaplain of worship at Hope College, was hunting through a used bookstore and stumbled upon a little book called Ascent to the Cross:Meditations on the Pilgrimage Psalms by Erik Routley(Abingdon Press, 1962). It was the published form of a lecture that walked through the Psalms of Ascent as a journey with Jesus from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. Benedict realized Jesus probably sang these psalms as part of the Passover celebrations during the last week of his life, and he wondered if the psalms could have a liturgical anchor in the church calendar.

Eventually this idea turned into a Worship Renewal Grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship for Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, Benedict’s congregation at the time, where it blossomed into a year-long meditation on the the ascent psalms.

The idea continued to grow and now is a multifaceted project with musical, visual, devotional, and liturgical components. Musicians have contributed more than thirty new worship songs inspired by the Psalms of Ascent. Visual artists have created images for each psalm, and an eclectic group of pastors, scholars, and writers have provided guidance for worshiping with each ascent psalm.

The music, art, congregational material, and sermon resources can all be found at

—Anna Gabhart

Journeying with the Psalms of Ascent through Lent and Holy Week

[All prayers and transitions that have been provided are spoken by the liturgist and do not appear in the printed order of worship.]

Prelude:With Joy I Heard My Friends Exclaim” Psalm 122, LUYH 66, PfAS 122F

Call to Worship: Psalm 124:8

Our help is in the name of the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.


Psalm 124, “Sing Out! Sing Out! You People of God” Bast (refrain); see next column

Psalm 132, “Let Us Go” Kimbrough; see p. 16

Psalm 124, “Our Help” Thé, LUYH 497, PfAS 124B

Crying Out

Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

This is one of many praises throughout the Psalms of Ascent. It is the main encourager, the energy needed to continue through the darkness of night—or the sweet comfort and permission to rest in safety when the darkness becomes too much. And there are times when the darkness overwhelms; we make a wrong turn or get lost along the way. When this happens we can join with the psalmist in crying out to the Lord for deliverance, for justice, for light.

Reading: Psalm 120 (NRSV)

In my distress I cry to the LORD,

that he may answer me:

“Deliver me, O LORD,

from lying lips,

from a deceitful tongue.”

What shall be given to you?

And what more shall be done to you,

you deceitful tongue?

A warrior’s sharp arrows,

with glowing coals of the broom tree!

Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech,

that I must live among the tents of Kedar.

Too long have I had my dwelling

among those who hate peace.

I am for peace;

but when I speak,

they are for war.

Song: Psalm 120, “O God of Love, Forever Blest” Watts, LUYH 283, PfAS 120C


Lord, we confess to you that we don’t always get it right in our thoughts, in our words, and in our deeds—when we walk by instead of helping our fallen neighbor, when we push through on our own strength and will to succeed, when we fail to see the goodness of your creation and instead dwell on imperfection. Lord, turn our hearts inside out to be opened, to be cleansed, and to be made whole so that we can receive the greatest blessing of all: your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Psalm 130, “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” Digerness, PfAS 130D

Sing verses 1–3

Instrumental verse for silent prayers of confession

Sing verse 4

Psalm 130, “In Deep Despair I Cry to You” Patterson, PfAS 130E, SNC 62


Our eyes cannot bear the sight, Lord, and our hearts cannot bear the pain. We turn away from the cross even though we are called to walk toward it, to bear it for one another as best as we can.

Lord, forgive us.

You sent your Son to walk the road with us, to be a light when all goes dark. You opened the gates of righteousness and answered our call for a Savior.

Father, bless us.

In this season of Lent, we turn our eyes toward the resurrection, to the redeeming light that cannot be overcome.

Christ, renew us.

A Blessing

Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Our cries to God, our prayers for help and healing are not left unanswered. Through our crying out, we listen for God’s word of blessing and hope. Hear these words from Psalm 121, our confident hope of God’s blessing as we journey.

Reading: Psalm 121

Reader 1

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

Reader 2

He will not let your foot slip—

he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

Reader 1

The LORD watches over you—

the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon by night.

Reader 2

The LORD will keep you from all harm—

he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going

both now and forevermore.


Psalm 121, “I Lift My Eyes” Doerksen, LUYH 652, PfAS 121H

Psalm 121 “I Lift My Eyes” Cobb, see next column

The psalmist’s journey resonates with Jesus’ journey toward the cross, and in Lent Christians join together with Jesus in that story: the story of betrayal, crucifixion, and death that leads to resurrection and union with God. As we continue in prayer, listen to Jesus’ words from John 17.


“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21).

Brief silence

Jesus, on the night of your betrayal you prayed for your disciples, for all who believed in you, and all who would someday believe. You did not pray for happiness, or for safety, or for the journey to be straight. You prayed for unity, that your children might all be one. Draw us together, Lord. In your name we pray. Amen.


A sermon and/or the Lord’s Supper may be included here.


Psalm 133, “Mirad cuán bueno y cuán delicioso es / Behold, How Good and Delightful” Puerto Rican, PfAS 133B

Psalm 133, “Look at How Good and Pleasing It Is” The Gentle Wolves


Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

We wait in hope and expectation. We walk with our ancestors toward the cross and the empty grave. We walk in joyful hope and quiet anticipation, and we find much-needed rest in you. Father, thank you for time and preparation, for leading us lower so that we may know your grace more abundantly. Give us strength to love one another, to love ourselves, and to love the earth. Help us to seek your beauty daily throughout all creation and to notice your goodness. The depth of your grace runs deep; fill us, Lord, until our cups overflow.

Spirit, we pray for wisdom as we continue to sojourn. We pray for guidance and a lighted path, and we thank you for your overflowing mercy and presence where we find rest along the way. Be with us; lead us with open arms.

Jesus, on your way to the cross, you call us beloved. Is there a greater love than this? Help us to see and know that same love in our neighbors, our enemies, in the questions of our children, in our own reflected image.

Through Jesus Christ we have been saved, and by his grace we will never walk alone.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.


Psalm 127, “Unless the Lord the House Shall Build” The Welcome Wagon


My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” Mote, LUYH 772, GtG 353, PH 379

Grateful Worship (Sending)

Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.


Lord, we thank you for rest. We bless you that you give sleep to your beloved, that you are a secure place in the daily chaos and confusion of our lives. In our sabbath, we worship you. In our daily toils and work, we worship you. In our crying out, in our listening for your blessing, we continue walking toward the cross in gratitude and hope. Amen.


As we look toward the cross, we feel the weight of our sin. Yet with our eyes fixed on Christ, we have the promise that God has not left us alone. He is our help, and, as the psalmist writes, “on him, his crown will gleam” (Psalm 132:18, NRSV). As we move toward the end of this journey, we know the goodness of the future that God is leading us toward. Listen to Psalm 132:13–18.

For the LORD has chosen Zion,

he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,

“This is my resting place for ever and ever;

here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.

I will bless her with abundant provisions;

her poor I will satisfy with food.

I will clothe her priests with salvation,

and her faithful people will ever sing for joy.

“Here I will make a horn grow for David

and set up a lamp for my anointed one.

I will clothe his enemies with shame,

but his head will be adorned with a radiant crown.”


Our God has indeed blessed us so we may be a blessing to others. As an act of worship today we have the opportunity to give back some of what God has given us financially to support (name the offering recipient/s).

Sending: Psalm 126

We go from here as ones continuing the journey, testifying that the God who has done great things in the past is the God who is our source of hope today.

Psalm 126, “Our Mouths They Were Filled” Bifrost Arts Worship

Psalm 126, “When God First Brought Us Back” Daw, LUYH 55, PfAS 126A


We have gathered our prayers from the rich language of the Psalms of Ascent. We have cried out to God for help, we have listened for God’s blessing, and we have responded with grateful worship. As we are sent from this place, let us recite together the last of the ascent psalms, a blessing as we end our journey. This season of Lent draws us into the confident hope that this is not the end, that indeed God in Christ is making all things new. Join me in praying the words of Psalm 134.

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the LORD

who minister by night in the house of the LORD.

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary

and praise the LORD.

May the LORD bless you from Zion,

he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.

Go in peace.


Psalm 134, “Come, All You Servants of the Lord” Duba, LUYH 924, PfAS 134A, PH 242

Psalm 134” Red River Hymnal

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Bruce Benedict is the chaplain of Worship Arts at Hope College.  He also serves as the worship coordinator at Maranatha CRC and helps propel creative things at Cardiphonia Music and Bellwether Arts.

Anna Gabhart is a writer from Holland, Michigan. She is a member of Bellwether Arts through Cardiphonia, which produces music, writing, devotional, and visual art to accompany the liturgical seasons.

Reformed Worship 130 © December 2018, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.