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Lift Up Your Hearts

Worship for Ascension

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).

So why do modern and postmodern North American worshipers shy away from a full-on embrace and celebration of Christ’s ascension?

Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter. But in many congregations we’ve successfully (if unintentionally) trained our worshipers to think the season of Easter is over less than forty hours after the guest trumpeter gets paid and the memorial lilies have been distributed. By the fortieth day after Easter, we’ve moved on to other rites and rituals: graduation parties, strict observance of the spring gardening calendar, and the beginning of the liturgical season of Little League, to name a few.

Familiar patterns of worship don’t help either. The Day of Ascension, strictly observed, calls for worship on a Thursday. As a parish pastor, I thought this was an amazingly cool thing to do—and apparently so did the four or five other people who usually showed up for Ascension Day services. For many Protestant churchgoers, off-Sunday worship ranks right up there with arena football as a less-than-interesting derivation of “the way things ought to be.”

Gradually, however, the importance and joy of Ascension can even captivate pragmatic churchgoers! New generations of worshipers (for whom Sunday is only one among many options) are discovering the power of mystery and the beauty of liturgy. Ascension provides a direct link into the unique power of the gospel.

Whether we observe it on Thursday or Sunday, the two great overarching themes of this celebration define the very core of our faith: Christ is Lord of all, and we are commissioned by Christ to live in this world as people who know it. Congregational vitality and mission, as well as our individual discipleship, can benefit from a more intentional observance of Ascension.

The order of worship that follows expands the Great Thanksgiving, the beautiful creedal prayer that historically institutes the Lord’s Supper, into the structure for the full liturgy. Beginning with the familiar dialogue, the order of worship continues through three sections: Gathering—giving thanks to God the Father for the ministry of creation, Proclamation—giving thanks to God the Son for the ministry of redemption, and Rejoicing—giving thanks through God the Holy Spirit for the ministry to which we are called, beginning at the Lord’s Table and continuing into God’s world. Each of the three sections begins with a dialogue prayer.

A few of the suggested options may be more appropriate for evening worship on the Day of Ascension or Lord’s Day worship on the following Sunday (seventh Sunday after Easter). Also included are little-known original stanzas of “Crown Him with Many Crowns” that reinforce the Ascension theme.

No matter when this liturgy is used, the joy of Christ’s resurrection and reign, and the assurance of our life in him are intentionally and repeatedly coupled with our commission (Matt. 28; Acts 1) to be his joy-obsessed witnesses serving and loving with reckless abandon until he returns. Party on!

A Service for the Seventh Sunday after Easter

Welcome

Reading: Acts 1:6-14

Preparation for Worship—Evening
(With appropriate “prelude” music as desired)
O Lord Jesus Christ, you did not come to the world to be served, but you also did not come to be admired, or in that sense to be worshiped. You are the Way and the Truth, and it is followers you demand. Arouse us, therefore, if we have dozed into delusion; save us from the error of wishing to admire you instead of being willing to follow you and resemble you.
(adapted from The Prayers of Kierkegaard, by Perry LeFevre, © 1956 Phoenix Books, University of Chicago Press)

Preparation for Worship—Morning
All peoples, clap your hands, shout your joy to God. For God Most High is awesome, great king of all the earth. God ascends the mountain to cheers and trumpet blasts. Sing out your praise to God, to the king, sing out your praise. For God rules the earth; sing praise with all your skill. God rules over nations, high on the sacred throne. Foreign rulers join the people of Abraham’s God; all the powers of earth belong to God on high. (Ps. 47, ICEL)

Call to Worship
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Prayer
God of the past, who has created and nurtured us,
we are here to give you thanks and praise.
God of the future, who is always ahead of us,
we are here to give you thanks and praise.
God of the present, who is here in the midst of us,
we are here to give you thanks and praise.
God of life, who is beyond us and within us,
we are here to rejoice in your glory and love!
(adapted from The Worship Sourcebook 1.4.66; original by Ruth Burgess in The Pattern of Our Days, alt. © Ruth Burgess)

Songs of Praise—Evening
“Rejoice, the Lord Is King” (see sidebar, p. 10)

Songs of Praise—Morning
“Rejoice, the Lord Is King” CH 370 , PH 155, PsH 408, SFL 180, SWM 140, TH 310, WR 342
“Crown Him with Many Crowns” CH 45, PH 151, PsH 410, SFL 181, TH 295, WR 317

Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne,
while heaven’s eternal anthem drowns all music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died to be your and your matchless King through all eternity.

*Crown him the Son of God, before the worlds began, and you who tread where he has trod, crown him the Son of Man;
who every grief has known that wrings the human breast, he takes and bears them for his own, that all in him may rest.

Crown him the Lord of life, triumphant o’er the grave, who rose victorious from the strife for those he came to save.
His glories now we sing who died and reigns on high; he died, eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

*Crown him the Lord of heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
crown him the King to whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown him with many crowns, as thrones before him fall; crown him, O kings, with many crowns, for he is King of all.

*Crown him the Lord of lords, who over all shall reign,
who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing their songs before him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.
*Additional ascension verses not found in most hymnals Text: Godfrey Thring and Matthew Bridges, PD; Tune: Diademata

“My Heart Is Filled with Thankfulness” (see p. 17)

Call to Confession
In writing these words, the psalmist David has shown us how to be honest with God and with one another:
“Search my heart, probe me, God!
Test and judge my thoughts.
Look! Do I follow the crooked paths?
Lead me along your ancient way. ”
based on Ps. 139:23-24, ICEL

We can express our love for God and our longing to be reconciled with God and with one another as we make our honest confession, remembering God’s assurance of love and forgiveness.

Confession
Loving God, you have called us together to worship you—to remember that in your world resurrection leads to reign, and to remember that in your love we know and are known by the reigning Lord of all—our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We gladly gather to sing and pray; admiring your power and might, proclaiming your love and faithfulness, thanking you for freeing us from the death-grip of sin and from our individual desires, addictions, and weakness.

But as we praise you, we realize we have failed to follow you. We confess that our worship and our witness are two different things. Our life this week has not been what you desire, and so our worship this [evening/morning] will not be what you deserve.

We have not been your witnesses. We have not devoted ourselves to prayer or to fellowship with one another, let alone to justice, mercy, reconciliation, or sacrificial love for others in your world.

And so, we ask your forgiveness, assured by your Word and by your Spirit that you have heard and answered our prayer even before it was formed or spoken.

In your mercy, loving God, empower us [tonight/this morning] and throughout this coming week to worship you by following you, to proclaim you by loving your world, and to rejoice, again and again and again, that our Savior is ascended and reigning, our Redeemer and our King!

Sung Prayer: “Be Thou My Vision” CH 562, PH 339; SWM 161, TH 642; WR 502

Assurance of God’s Love

Passing of the Peace

Prayer
Illuminating God, creator of light,
shine in us and dispel all darkness.
Illuminating God, creator of light,
shine through us and draw others to your light. Amen.

Reading God’s Word: Ephesians 1:15-23; Acts 1:8

Teaching God’s Truth

Responding to God’s Call
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world—which some seek to control, but which others view with despair—we declare with joy and trust:
Our world belongs to God!
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times, until his kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever.
Our world belongs to him! God is King! Let the earth be glad! Christ is Victor; his rule has begun. Hallelujah! The Spirit is at work, renewing the creation. Praise the Lord! . . .
As covenant partners, called to faithful obedience and set free for joyful praise, we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in his world. With tempered impatience, eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord.
And we are confident that the light that shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears. Come, Lord Jesus! Our world belongs to you.
—Our World Belongs to God, st. 1-2, 6

Offering Hymn
[As this hymn is sung and offerings are collected, bring the bread and cup to the Table and prepare the Lord’s Supper. If for some reason the Supper cannot be observed, continue with the Prayers of God’s People.]

Song: “Speak, O Lord” CSW 17

Invitation
Come to this table: you who have much faith, and you who would like to have more; you who have been to this sacrament often, and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed. Come. It is Christ who invites us to meet him here.
—A Wee Worship Book, WGRG. © 1999, Wild Goose Resource Group, Iona Community, Scotland. GIA Publications, Inc., exclusive N. American agent. Used by permission.

Prayer
Loving God, our heavenly Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
it is our greatest joy to give you thanks and praise.
You have created everything we have seen
and everything we have yet to discover.
Your creation is good—and for this we praise you!
You have called us by name,
creating each unique individual
and setting us apart to be your people.
By this we are blessed—and we thank you!
Help us now to join our voices with your creation,
and, with all your people of every time and place, let us sing!
“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might…”
(or a similar acclamation of praise, see Worship Sourcebook, 8.2.3)

Loving God, Christ our Savior, risen and ascended,
it is you who came to us in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna!
You have ascended to your place in heaven
and from there you will come again.
Hallelujah!
As we bless your name we remember your love.
You did not come to us to be worshiped, but offering welcome.
You did not come to us to be served, but to serve.
You gave your life to redeem us from sin and death,
and you have commissioned us to live for you.
On the night before your death
you took bread, broke it, gave it to your disciples, and said,
“Take this and eat it. This is my body, broken for you.”
Lord Jesus, we remember.
Then you took the cup, blessed it, and said,
“This is the new covenant,
my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sin.
Drink it, all of you.”
Lord Jesus, we remember.
Now, let us joyfully eat this bread and drink this cup,
and let us boldly proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!

Loving God, Holy Spirit, our counselor and comforter,
as you bring us to this Table,
make us one with you and one with each other;
a sign of your healing and of your reign
in this wounded and rebellious world.
By the faith you inspire,
make this be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Amen!

By the faithfulness you inspire,
make us part of the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood,
to love and serve both you and your created world.
Amen!

All praise and thanks we offer to you,
Father, Son, and Spirit,
one God, now and always.
Amen!

Music at the Distribution
“Behold the Lamb” CSW 27
“Will You Come and Follow Me” SNC 267

[Have a soloist sing the “questions” (st. 1-4), then invite all to sing the “answer” (st. 5) at or near the conclusion of the distribution.]

Response
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits. (Ps. 103:1-2)

Song: “Bring Forth the Kingdom of God” SNT 20

Prayers of the People
Holy Spirit, you work within us.
Do not let us forget that we are not our own.
Holy Spirit, you move within us.
Empower us to live the faith we profess.
Holy Spirit, God within us.
Guide and protect us now and always.

[Pray for the joys and needs known to the congregation, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.]

Charge—Evening
As you leave this worship tonight, may you know the hope to which God has called you, experience the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and trust his incomparably great power for all who believe. (based on Eph. 1:18-19)

Charge—Morning
“God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, The Message)

Benediction