Songs for Ascension and Pentecost

Make new friends but keep the old. . . . These songs for Ascension and Pentecost are presented in pairs: a newer song attached to one that is well known. Your congregation might appreciate having the company of a familiar hymn while they work to learn a new song. The Pentecost songs are arranged to give you the option of weaving the pair together, moving back and forth between the two songs as best fits your particular worship situation.

“He Is Lord”; “Jesus Is Lord”

God’s sovereignty remains one of the dominant themes of Reformed theology —and a key message for Ascension Day. Add to that the strange truth that God has chosen us not only for salvation but also to be his instruments of grace in this world, and we find ourselves fumbling for a balance between confidence and humility.

Honest self-reflection leads us to admit that we tend to choose extreme responses, either withering in the face of God’s majesty while neglecting the honor and duty of being called into kingdom service or boldly positioning ourselves too closely to the Almighty, neglecting the posture of humility.

This pair of songs for Ascension Day will help your congregation profess the authority and lordship of God and confess their sin in a grace-infused context. I suggest that you use “He Is Lord” (LUYH 227) as the confession, then immediately move into “Jesus Is Lord” (LUYH 226) as the assurance of pardon.

“He Is Lord” is a staple in hymnals and songbooks and has been sung by Christians of many ages all around the world. Like the doxology, “He Is Lord” is one of those songs that bursts out spontaneously during a prayer meeting or at the end of a gathering or when the group leader turns to you, the token song leader in the room, and says, “Lead us in a song!”

This easy chorus, which contains simple statements of God’s many-splendored character, is followed by “Jesus Is Lord”—a young, less-familiar song that is rich with theology and draws on familiar phrases of Scripture. The song is easy to learn since the melody moves intelligently, and it offers a heartier musical experience to balance the simplicity of the first song.

“Jesus Is Lord” has been around since 1998 when Daniel Chua, now head of the School of Humanities and award-winning professor of music at the University of Hong Kong, was studying in England. He tells the story:

I had the tune first and the words “Jesus is Lord.” That’s it. So I just kept it on the back burner for several months. Then one Sunday evening, on a train journey from London to Cambridge after a sermon series based on Ephesians, all the words suddenly came. So, in a sense, the words were written in an hour. The song was published in a Spring Harvest worship songbook in 2003, and I think that it is for this reason that it has circulated around.

To use this song as the assurance of pardon, pay special attention to stanza two. The words focus on the work of Christ, assuring us of forgiveness and grace. Set this stanza apart either by a soloist or by changing the instrumentation and/or dynamics.

The prayers accompanying “He Is Lord” are written in a pattern that allows one or more instrumentalists to play along quietly, remembering to use less volume, less movement, and less melody (or no melody at all). Play simple chord patterns centered on somber tones and minor chords to emphasize the confessional posture. I’ve included a few ideas, but hope that you will try your own. Notice that each prayer has a key phrase (“Remind us . . .”; “Renew in us . . .”; “Rekindle in us . . .”; “Revive us . . .”) that will cue the musicians to return to the last two measures (“that Jesus Christ is Lord”) as introduction to the coming stanza. You may choose to have the people say these sentences together.

See page 17 for a description of how this would work in a worship service. For other ideas, also see RW 94:30.

Worship Service

Confession (instrumentalists begin to play quietly): Almighty God, our confession today is simple: You are God, and we are not. You are Lord, you are King, you are Love, and you are Life. And we are not these things. Yet you have chosen us to live in this world as your children who know you and who experience the joy and confidence of your reign in this world. We repent for the times when we forget our place and live as though we are in charge of the world. Remind us of your resurrection power that drops us to our knees in adoration and submission to you.

Song: “He Is Lord” (st. 1), followed by this interlude:

Prayer: King of Kings, forgive us for the times when we cower and hide our true identities as sons and daughters of the Most High! Renew in us the thrill of belonging to your kingdom and empower us to engage in your mission, proclaiming your truth in word and deed so that the whole world will join to sing of you as King!

Song: “He Is Lord” (st. 2), followed by this interlude:

Prayer: Lord of love, if only your people did sing “with one voice of joy.” Instead, we who are deeply loved by you are often a quarrelsome bunch. Forgive us for our unloving ways both toward one another and toward those not in this fellowship. Rekindle in us your passion to love others as you have loved us. Song: “He Is Lord” (st. 3), followed by this interlude:

Prayer: Life-giving God, you have made us fully alive in Christ Jesus. Yet we often prefer to stumble along in our own way. Revive us and guide us along the path you have set out for us so that we will be vibrant messengers of your grace and hope in this world.

Song: “He Is Lord” (st. 4). (See page 18)

Prayer (instrumentalists begin introduction to “Jesus Is Lord”): Receive our confession, Lord, and in your mercy forgive us. By your power, restore to us the joy of your salvation as we grow in worship of our King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.

“Sopla, sopla fuerte”/“Blow Wild and Blow Freely”; “Spirit of the Living God”

I often think of the Spirit as the “busy” person of the Trinity. I know that the Father and the Son are equally engaged in the tasks of creation, redemption, and sanctification, but it seems that the Spirit has lots of jobs to attend to. The Spirit is assigned to comfort in time of grief, convict of sin, communicate wisdom, empower for mission, and much more. That’s a full-time job even if I were the Spirit’s only client! But it’s not just about me. The Spirit is busy with individuals worldwide and is working in and through the church of Jesus to build and strengthen the kingdom of God.

Many of our Pentecost songs are quiet, somber, mellow tunes. We sing of the “Sweet Holy Spirit” and “Spirit of Gentleness,” invoking images of a delicate dove hovering over our lives with tenderness and care. While that may be true, it is an incomplete picture of the Spirit’s character and work in our lives and in the world.

“Sopla, sopla fuerte” (LUYH 244) invites the Spirit to move with authority in the church, stirring God’s people into missional action. The repetition of “sopla” indicates an intensity in the action. The lyrics gives voice to the church’s cry for energy, enthusiasm, and courage: “Breathe with strength and power, kindle, spur, make us bold.”

Inés Simeone, a Methodist minister in Uraguay, wrote the words of this song as a prayer to close a conference on the Holy Spirit. Her friend, Horacio Vivares, professor of music at the National Conservatory of Music in Argentina, set it to music. Rev. Simeone describes how it came together: “The first time I heard the music it was played like a bolero . . . sweet, not too slowly, not too fast.”

Play this song and the matching arrangement of “Spirit of the Living God” (LUYH 749) with confidence, expressing the intensity of activity of the Spirit. Include simple rhythm instruments, emphasizing the off beat to create a sense of movement.

“Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God”; “Breathe on Me, Breath of God”

Composers, like parents, aren’t supposed to tell anyone if they have favorites, but Keith Getty confesses that he has a special love for this melody. This song (LUYH 746) completed a five-year project of using main phrases from the Apostles’ Creed as inspiration for new hymns written by Getty and his writing partner, Stuart Townend. Getty explains, “The lyric of ‘Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God’ is as much an explanation of what Scripture states the Holy Spirit does as it is a prayer for our utter dependence on the Holy Spirit in our lives.”

I’ll confess that this is one of my own favorites, both because of the simple flowing melody that draws attention to the prayerful words and because the text is both deeply personal and boldly missional. The same Spirit who breathes life into me also invigorates and challenges me to “show Christ in all I do,” reminding me that I do this in the context of the church of Christ, which is sent into the world “that in unity the face of Christ may be clear for all the world to see.”

To read Getty’s own words about this song and hear the beautiful introduction of “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Ennio Morricone, check out Getty’s blog at tinyurl.com/GettySpirit.

This contemporary song can easily be woven with “Spirit of the Living God” (IVERSON) (LUYH 749), keeping the same key and pace. It also fits with the classic “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” (TRENTHAM) (LUYH 747), which can either be played in the traditional 3/4 by simply moving into that meter and back again to 4/4 if you weave the two songs. Or, if keeping the 4/4 meter throughout the two songs is a priority, I’ve included that option for you here. In either case, use the two measures at the end of the Getty tune (p. 21) to link between the songs. Consider repeating these two bars to give just a bit more time for the congregation to focus.

“You Are Before Me Lord”; “Spirit of God, Who Dwells Within My Heart

This final pair of Pentecost songs links two familiar tunes, but the first is not well known as a church hymn. According to hymnary.org, HIGHLAND CATHEDRAL can be found in just three hymnals, including the newly released Lift Up Your Hearts, where it is linked to the text of Psalm 139 in “You Are Before Me, Lord” (LUYH 336). The tune invokes images of bagpipes and kilts and is played so often at Scottish cultural events that some have proposed it to become the new national anthem of Scotland. However, the tune was composed by two Germans, Ulrich Roever and Michael Korb, in 1982 to be performed at the Highland Games in Germany. The stately melody with a gentle marching step has made it popular for ceremonies such as weddings and military events.

As beautiful and powerful as the tune is, it is the text of Psalm 139 and the words of the hymn “Spirit of God, Who Dwells Within My Heart” (LUYH 618) that drew my attention. The psalmist basks in wonder that the Spirit of the Lord Almighty is present no matter what the place or circumstance of life. What peace and confidence it gives us to know that the Spirit who dwells within us will never leave us!

Play and lead these songs with an intentional balance of power and tenderness. Plan your pace. If you begin too slowly with HIGHLAND CATHEDRAL you’ll find that MORECAMBE really drags.

These songs will work well with a broad choice of instruments and with a variety of dynamics as long as the musicians remain aware of the emotive qualities they are evoking. Notice the difference between these two examples:

Phil Coulter: tinyurl.com/coultervideo
Bagpipes and full band: tinyurl.com/bagpipesband

The arrangements included here can be used to weave both tunes together, selecting stanzas and tunes to suit your needs. Here is one suggestion for use: sing the first two stanzas of “You Are Before Me, Lord,” using HIGHLAND CATHEDRAL; then sing stanza 1 of “Spirit of God, Who Dwells Within my Heart” in the version of morecambe provided here; then sing the text of “Spirit of God, Who Dwells Within My Heart,” stanzas 4 and 5 to the tune of HIGHLAND CATHEDRAL.

Bonus Arrangement Online

Bev Herrema, a talented composer and song writer, has graciously allowed one of her early arrangements, “Spirit of God (with Dwell in Me, O Blessed Spirit),” to be made available to you at ReformedWorship.org. It works well with choirs, small groups, a church band, or even as an instrumental piece.

Resources

Rev. Joy Engelsman is a multivocational pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. She preaches frequently in Denver-area congregations, provides ministry coaching throughout North America, and serves as a missionary with Youth for Christ/Africa developing staff and leaders.