For many churches, Easter is a high point in the Christian calendar. After Easter Sunday, worship activities tend to slow down, and Ascension Day and Pentecost don’t get as much attention. Yet the Christian calendar is not complete without celebrating Jesus’ ascension to heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus.
The church has a long history of observing the Feast of Ascension. St. Augustine says it is of apostolic origin. Some scholars trace it back to A.D. 68. To the early Christians, Jesus’ departure from earth was the final sign of his divinity. Today, the ascension is often associated with the affirmation of our faith and hope in Jesus.
Pentecost is celebrated on the seventh Sunday, or the fiftieth day, after Easter Sunday. It’s based on the narrative of Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and other Christ-followers when they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks. Traditionally, Pentecost marks the beginning of the Christian church. In addition to commemorating the event in the infant church, Christian congregations today often emphasize themes of mission, witnessing for Christ, and bringing justice to the community.
For this Sing 10, I asked several musicians and worship leaders with different cultural and geographic backgrounds for their choice of congregational songs for Ascension and Pentecost Sundays. Despite the diversity of contexts, there is a unified message as the church marks the completion of Jesus’ earthly ministry, recognizes its call to mission, and looks forward with hope to be united with Christ once again.
Bruce Benedict (BB) is the worship and arts chaplain at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He is also the creative director for Cardiphonia Music and curates the lively Liturgy Fellowship community on Facebook.
Kai Ton Chau (KTC) is associate editor for Reformed Worship and resource development specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He also serves on the chapel planning team at Calvin Theological Seminary and teaches as adjunct professor at Calvin University.
I-to Loh (ITL) is a Taiwanese church musician and ethnomusicologist. He is adjunct professor at Tainan Theological College and Seminary, Taiwan Theological College and Seminary, and the Southeast Asia Graduate School of Theology.
Ruth Ann Schuringa (RAS) has been worship director at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Brampton, Ontario, since 2003. From 2015–2019 she was also the worship ministry team leader at CrossPoint CRC in Brampton. Recently Ruth Ann has been endorsed as a Worship Coach for the Worship Ministries of the CRC. Her greatest joy is seeing worship leaders and worship teams lead skillfully and pastorally, engaging congregations to know and experience God.
Lisa Weaver (LW) is an ordained clergyperson of the American Baptist Churches USA. She currently serves as an assistant professor of worship at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.
Congregational Songs of Faith and Hope
Call to Worship
“Lift Up Your Hearts, Believer!” Dustan, OLOF 348
This song, by Canadian writer Sylvia Dunstan (1955–1993), is a call for the church to commemorate the completion of Christ’s earthly ministry. This hymn is a good choice for Ascension Sunday because it links the salvific moments in Christ’s life, it reiterates Christ’s promise of the sending of the Holy Spirit, and it forces the church to pause and recognize the connection among resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost. Many churches go from Easter to Pentecost without realizing that Pentecost is the fulfillment of what Christ said in John 14: that he would be leaving to prepare a place for us in heaven and would send an advocate or comforter to stay with us. (LW)
Written by Wendell Kimbrough in 2012, the lyrics of this ascension song are based on Isaac Watts’s 1709 hymn. In the song, the church is urged to give praise to Jesus, the Prince of light. It is a triumphant hymn that captures the biblical language of Christ’s ascension. (BB)
Based on Exodus 15:3 and Psalm 28:7, this Aaron Keyes song is a take on the theme of ascension from the contemporary worship genre engaging one of the church’s traditional Old Testament canticles. (BB)
The poignant text by Sylvia Dunstan builds on paradox, “a device little used in hymnody because the singing tempos of most congregational songs leave little time to ponder the nuances of each paradox relationship,” wrote Dr. Bert Polman on hymnary.org. Paired with the hauntingly beautiful French carol PICARDY, this Christological text uses imagery from both the Old and New testaments. (KTC)
“Across the Lands (You’re the Word of God the Father)” Getty and Townend, LUYH 775, SSS 654 (YouTube: tinyurl.com/y6kevpjt)
This upbeat song was written for a 2003 mission prayer book. The lyrics tell the entire story of the gospel from creation to Christ’s birth, ministry, suffering, resurrection, and ascension. (KTC)
The thought of Jesus’ “departure” can make us uneasy or even frightened. What would happen if Jesus left us? However, the message of the ascension is one of power and hope—that Jesus, fully divine and fully human, now sits on the throne and intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). This gospel song captures well our faith and hope in the ascended Christ. (KTC)
Written by the Irish band Rend Collective, the song begins with a powerful prayer: “Come, set your rule, and reign in our hearts again,” and each verse ends with “We are your church; we need your power in us; we are the hope of the earth.” It is a kingdom mission song fitting for Ascension Day. (RAS)
Congregational Songs for Mission and Justice
Call to Worship
“O Come Quickly, Holy Spirit / O Datanglah ya Roh Kudus” Tamaela, STB 7 (See music on p. 12-13. YouTube: tinyurl.com/y2gxpoe7)
This Indonesian song begins with a solo voice singing in a free rhythm, pleading for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Then the congregation joins the call with a response, “Ya Roh Kudus,” or “O Holy Spirit.” (The congregation is encouraged to sing in the Indonesian language.) The song may be accompanied by a steady drumbeat. (ITL)
A contemporary charismatic worship song that evokes the language of the Spirit hovering over creation, perhaps hinting at the chaos in our lives and the continual need we have for the Holy Spirit to bring order and life. (BB)
Jeremy Benjamin Zeyl wrote this song a few years ago for his home church, Talbot Street Christian Reformed Church in London, Ontario. The power of this song for worship is in the biblical story of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, along with a singable, meaningful chorus. The first two verses and the chorus tell us the story from Acts 1 before the third verse pivots and makes it personal, bringing Pentecost to the here and now: “And now you come, Spirit; you come here among us, rushing in, filling up our hearts.” By way of changing a few words, the final chorus becomes a prayer for the local congregation: “Holy Spirit, you fill up our hearts and give us words of truth.” (RAS)
This is one of Charles Wesley’s hymns for the Lord’s Supper that specifically meditates on the Holy Spirit’s role in the holy meal. The hymn addresses the Spirit as “True Recorder,” “Witness,” and “Remembrancer Divine.” (BB)
Call to Mission
“Set Us Free for Freedom” Murray (See music on p. 15)
This hymn by New Zealand writer Shirley Murray is set to a new melody composed by Taiwanese composer I-to Loh. The song is a petition for God to free us from worldly bondage and live into God’s purpose. (ITL)
“God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind” Stuempfle, OLOF 353
Herman Stuempfle Jr. was president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Set to the tune CWM RHONDDA, the hymn is suitable for Pentecost Sunday because it contains strong geological imagery, it exhorts the church to missional service, it asks the Spirit’s aid to combat injustice and avoid lethargy, it calls for unity in the family of God, and it points to earth’s healing (not just the people, but all God’s creation). (LW)
This song is a surprising little gem. From its trinitarian chorus to the biblical storyline found in the verses, it could be used in many liturgical contexts and church seasons. The first verse begins with Advent. Verse two brings us to Jesus’ arrival on earth to “reconcile the lost,” and then verse three celebrates the resurrection. The fourth verse captures the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church: “And the church of Christ was born, then the Spirit lit the flame; now this gospel truth of old shall not kneel, shall not faint.” Here’s a challenge for the church: to rekindle this spirit and to know the power of the gospel. (RAS)
OLOF: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: An African American Ecumenical Hymnal (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2018).
STB: Sound the Bamboo (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2000).