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Blessing for a Lifetime: An Ascension Sunday service using the 'Children and Worship' approach

PREPARATORY NOTES
Physical Setting

Since Ascension Sunday is the final Sunday in the "week of Sundays" of the Easter Season, the physical setting for this service was connected to our worship throughout the Easter season. During the season of Lent large pieces of purple fabric were hung in front of the church and knotted around a large wooden cross. On Easter Sunday the purple was torn away and white satin was draped on the cross. On this Ascension Sunday a gold crown was added to the cross. Additional ways to prepare the place of worship are given in the sidebar on the meaning of Ascension.

Worship Leaders

There were several worship leaders of a variety of ages and races, and both genders. Leaders included the pastor, a children's worship leader for the "Meaning of Ascension," two people to read the Scripture passages (NRSV), an organist, a pianist, percussionists, dancers, and a soloist/song leader (who could also be the signing and dance leader). The choir sang from the back of the sanctuary and remained there until the passing of the peace, then sat with their families.

Participants should meet before the service for rehearsal and to discuss details of the worship service—especially regarding the flow of worship— deciding such questions as when to stand and when participants should return to their seats.

Sources

The following sources were consulted in preparing this service:

The ABCs of Worship (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), Book of Common Worship (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), Book of Blessings (The Liturgical Press, 1989), "Make me a Blessing," Reformed Worship 19 (March 1991).

 

THE SERVICE
WE APPROACH GOD

Prelude

Call to Worship (1)

Opening Psalm of Praise: "Nations, Clap Your Hands" (Psalm 47) PsH 47, PH 194, RL 103, TH 73

Greeting

People of God, the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ, sends his greeting to you. And his greeting is this: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit. This is the greeting of Christ, who arose from the grave.

He died and rose that we might have eternal life. All thanks be to Jesus!

This same Christ ascended to heaven.

He ascended that we might experience God's presence and power. All praise be to God.

Hymn of Praise: "Clap Your Hands" PsH 166, SFL 179

[Sing two times, with children playing percussion instruments. SFL 179 has an additional ascension stanza]

Passing the Peace

Meaning of Ascension (see sidebar p. 30)

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

O God of all power and majesty, you created the heavens and stretched them out. You formed the earth and all that comes from it. You give the breath of life to all who walk on the face of the earth. Jesus, you conquered sin and death and now reign victorious. You are Lord; glory is due your name. The former things have come to pass; we now await the new things you will bring through the Holy Spirit. We rejoice to be gathered in your name. Alleluia! Accept our praise and petitions.
Where we have been corrupt,
purify us.
Where we have been in error,
direct us.
Where we have given ourselves to unworthy
goals,
reform us.
Where we have sinned,
forgive us, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our
Savior. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 103:1-5, 10-12 (NRSV)

Hymn of Assurance and Commitment: "O Christ, Our Hope, Our Hearts' Desire" PsH 485, TH 161

GOD SPEAKS TO US

Prayer for Illumination

Blessed are you, Lord God,
King of all creation:
You have taught us by your Word.
Open our hearts to your Spirit,
and lead us on the paths of Christ, your Son.
All praise and glory be yours forever.
Amen.

Scripture

Luke 24:44-53
Ephesians 1:15-23

[After each lesson, the reader says]

This is the Word of the Lord.

[Then the congregation responds]

Thanks be to God.

Sermon: "Blessing for a Lifetime" (2)

WE RESPOND IN GRATITUDE

Statement of Faith

What do you mean by saying,
"He ascended to heaven"?

That Christ,
while his disciples watched,
was lifted up from the earth to heaven
and will be there for our good
until he comes again
to judge the living and the dead.

But isn't Christ with us
until the end of the world
as he promised us?

Christ is truly human and truly God.
In his human nature Christ is not now on earth;
but in his divinity, majesty grace, and Spirit
he is not absent from us for a moment.

Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 18, Q&A 46, 47

Hymn: "Jesus Shall Reign" PsH 412, PH 423, RL233, TH 44 (3)
st. 1: all
st. 2: women and girls
st. 3: all
st. 4: men and boys
st. 5: all

Prayers of the people: (see sidebar p. 31)
concluded by:
... through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Amen.

Offering (4)

Doxology: "Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow"

Prayer (5)

Hymn of Praise: "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today"
PSH 388, PH 113, RL 325, SFL 172, PH 277 (6)
st. 4 and 5 only

Benediction: Numbers 6:24-25 (NRSV)
Amen.

Parting Song of Blessing: "May the Lord Bless You"
SFL80 (7)

Postlude

SERVICE NOTES

1 We gather here from many different places and experiences to be in the presence of God.

Welcome to the worship of our risen and ascended Savior.

2 Sermon: Blessing for a Lifetime.

The focus is on the blessing of Jesus in the Ascension (Luke 24:50-53). Jesus blessed his disciples, and as he was blessing them ... they were continually blessing God. Here are some ideas:

A young child was in my care for a few days a week. At first it was just a few hours at a time. However, as the parents' work schedule changed, he started staying for longer periods of time. Often it was difficult for mother and child at drop-off time, so this ritual began: Mom would say, "Ben, I need a hug goodbye." Ben would come running with his arms out wide. Mom would scoop him up and say, "It has to be a big hug to last all day."

Reread Scripture passage: Luke 24:50-53.

The blessing comforts: Jesus blessed the disciples.

The disciples had lost Jesus once (in death) and now they had to say goodbye another time. They must have been confused. They were probably experiencing some separation anxiety. And yet they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

The little boy in my care could feel the gentle imprint of the hug all day.

The hands extended in blessing have a protective characteristic.

Demonstrate the sign for blessing from American Sign Language.

"Bless"

Place both hands in front of mouth, palm to palm; bring hands forward slighth open them and bring them down

The blessing empowers: As he was blessing them ... The little boy felt the strength of the blessing/hug and could dispel the anxiety of being away from his mom.

We receive the blessing from God and are empowered to go and tell the good news with confidence that God is with us.

With the blessing comes the promise of the Holy Spirit.

The blessing challenges: They were continually blessing God.

To bless God:

When Mom hugged Ben, he naturally hugged her back.

To bless others:

What we receive from God causes us to overflow with blessing to God in return.

We overflow with blessing to others.

3 Organ accompaniment by John Ferguson in Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, Book III, Ludwig Music Publishing Co., 557 East 140th Street, Cleveland, OH 44110-1999; (216) 851-1150.

4 During the doxology, the offerings are brought forward. Then a deacon offers the following prayer:

5 O Jesus, we ask that you accept the gifts we lay before you. Use them and us to be a blessing in the lives of others. Amen.

6 Since we had sung "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" on the first Sunday of Easter, we closed the Easter season with it as well, singing only the last two stanzas. And we invited the dancers back who had joyfully welcomed the risen Savior with movement and colorful streamers on Easter Sunday. The dance motions were taken from RW12, page 24.)

7 "May the Lord Bless You" was sung twice by a soloist from the front near the piano. The dancers signed it as it was being sung. Signing motions can be found in the Leader's Edition of Songs for LiFE (CRC Publications, 1995).

 

Excerpt
MEANING OF ASCENSION

This part of the service should be led by someone familiar with the Children and Worship program. The table is set with a white cloth, a Christ candle, snuffer, matches, and a small candle to use for lighting the Christ candle. The table and the candle must be visible by all. You may want to call the children forward so they can see more easily. The song leader and the pianist should be in position before you begin.

[Look at the congregation and say]

This is the season of Easter, the time we celebrate the mystery that Jesus died and God made him alive again. Today is Ascension Sunday, when we celebrate another mystery.. .the mystery that Jesus went away so he could be with us always ,. .in everyplace and... every time.

The Christ candle helps us remember the mystery of Easter.

[Touch the unlit wick and move your hands down the candle]

When there is no light, we say, "Christ has died."
Say that with me:
Christ has died.
But Jesus is alive. God raised Jesus ...

[Move hands slowly back up the candle]

... from the dead, so we say "Christ is risen."
Say that with me:
Christ is risen.

[Light the candle using the smaller candle and pause for a moment. Then point to the flame and say]

Jesus was alive again. One day he said to his friends, "Stay in Jerusalem. God will send you a wonderful gift.. .the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will give you power... power to tell everyone about me and the kingdom of God."

Jesus said to his friends, "I am going away. You will not see me anymore. But I will be with you always .. .in everyplace and in every time... And I will come again."

Then Jesus disappeared... into a cloud.

[Place snuffer over the flamcThen, as you say "into a cloud," lift the snuffer slowly, as far as you can reach in the air, keeping your eyes on the smoke Look at the congregation again and say]

This is the mystery of Ascension. Jesus went away, but by his Spirit, Jesus is still with us.

[Look toward the candle again as you say]

And Jesus promised to come again.
Christ will come again.
Say that with me:
Christ will come again.

[The piano begins playing "Christ Has Died, Christ Is Risen" (SFL 67). Tiie leader sings each short phrase (from, memory) inviting the congmgation to repeat each phrase in echo fashion. Tlie stojyteller repeats the motions of indicating the wick and moving hands down the candle, lighting it, and snuffing it for each phrase]

This is the mystery of Easter.

[Snuff the smaller candle and invite the children to return to their seats.]

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Almighty God,
in Jesus Christ you taught us to pray,
and to offer our petitions to you in his name.
Guide us by your Holy Spirit,
that our prayers for others may serve your will
and show your steadfast love;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Let us pray for blessing on the world.

[Silent prayer]

Creator God,
you made all things in your wisdom,
and in your love you save us.
We pray for the whole creation.
Overthrow evil powers, right what is wrong,
feed and satisfy those who thirst for justice,
so that all your children may freely enjoy the earth you
have made
and joyfully sing your praises;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Let us pray for blessing on the church.

[Silent Prayer]

Gracious God,
you have called us to be the church of Jesus Christ.
Keep us one in faith and service,
breaking bread together,
and proclaiming the good news to the world,
that all may believe you are love,
turn to your ways,
and live in the light of your truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Let us pray for blessing on our world.

[Silent prayer]

Eternal Ruler, hope of all the earth
you sent us a Savior, Christ Jesus,
to break down walls of hostility that divide us.
Send peace on earth,
and put down greed, pride, and anger,
which turn nation against nation and race against race.
Speed the day when wars will end
and the whole world accepts your rule;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for blessing on the sick and sonowing.

[Silent prayer]

Merciful God,
you bear the pain of the world.
Look with compassion on those who are sick
(especially on__________)
and bring healing as a sign of your grace.
Stand with those who sorrow
(especially__________)
that they may know your comfort
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Let us pray for blessing for our friends and family.

[Silent prayer]

God of compassion,
bless us and those we love,
our friends and families,
that, drawing close to you,
we may be drawn closer to each other;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Almighty God,
your blessed Son, our Savior Jesus Christ,
ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all
things.
Mercifully give us faith to trust
that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth to the end of time;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen.