When our congregation was worshiping virtually through the Lent, Easter, and Pentecost seasons of 2020, we developed outdoor worship stations to provide opportunities for church members to experience and celebrate the promises of Jesus’ ascension to heaven in person. We arranged the stations around our church building and made them available for an extended weekend following Ascension Day.
For each station, we laminated a poster that included Scripture and catechism passages, instructions for the activity, and a reflection. Any necessary materials were available in weatherproof containers. With a little creative thought these worship stations could be adapted for an indoor experience.
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days and then was taken up into heaven. It is easy to share his followers’ confusion and even dismay at the ascension, but this event is a reason for us to celebrate. Crucified, Christ put an end to sin and death; resurrected, he brings us to life with him; ascended, he reigns with the Father, intercedes for all believers, and promises to send the Holy Spirit to remain with us on earth. The ascension of our Lord is our assurance that there is a place in heaven for all who are raised with Christ.
These worship stations use statements from the Heidelberg Catechism to help participants, celebrate, and experience what Ascension Day means. They may visit the stations in any order, and are encouraged to take time to wait for the Lord’s presence and to hear his voice in these activities.
The Prayer Leaves, The Wind, and Gifts stations are adapted from “Outdoor Worship Stations” by Sara Hargreaves and Sam Hargreaves (engageworship.org/ideas/outdoor-worship-stations).
A PLACE FOR ME
Materials for this station: bird’s nest (found or purchased) placed somewhere visible
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”
We have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself.
—Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 49b
Think about a bird’s nest. How does its location, materials, and structure provide for the birds who live there?
What does it mean to you that Jesus is preparing a place for you in heaven? Take some time to hold your thoughts, feelings, and questions about this before the Lord.
Before his suffering and death, Jesus comforted his disciples with the promise that although he was leaving them, he was going to heaven to prepare a place for them there. This echoes the language of marriage in Israel: the groom would go away to prepare a room for himself and his bride, and when it was ready he would bring her there for the marriage celebration. Our Lord’s ascension assures us that Jesus is preparing a place for each of us in heaven, and one day he will bring us there to live with him.
Materials for this station: paper leaves, ornament hangers, pens or markers
Who then is the one that condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Christ is our advocate in heaven in the presence of his Father.
—Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 49a
Write a prayer on one of the paper leaves and hang it on the tree.
Remember that, just as our Father provides sunlight and water for the trees to grow, in Jesus’ name God hears our prayers and cares for our needs.
The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that Christ is the only one with authority to condemn us for our sins, and he died and was raised to life for us. Ascended to heaven, he is now our advocate in the presence of the Father. Jesus understands our needs and our struggles; he hears our prayers and intercedes for us in heaven.
Materials for this station: wind sock (homemade or purchased), wind chimes
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
He sends his Spirit to us on earth as a corresponding pledge. By the Spirit’s power we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.
—Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 49c
Think about the wind. What senses do you use to experience it? How is the wind useful to us?
How do you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit? How does the Spirit help you?
Pray that the Lord would help you to be open to the Holy Spirit’s work in you and to respond in faith.
The Holy Spirit is one of the greatest promises of the ascension. While the resurrected Jesus was present on earth in only one place at a time, through the Spirit the ascended Christ is with us always, wherever we are. The Holy Spirit comforts us, corrects us, and guides us as we set our minds and our hearts on the kingdom work which Jesus has set out for us.
Materials for this station: small paper cups, potting soil, seeds (quick-sprouting flowering plants work well)
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
Through his Holy Spirit he pours out gifts from heaven upon us his members.
—Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 51a
Hold a seed in your hand and think about the spiritual gifts you recognize in your own life. Pray that the Lord will continue to show you the gifts he has for you and help you to use them for the good of his church.
Fill a paper cup with soil and plant the seed.
Take your seed with you to remind you that Christ has promised to work in you and through you by his Spirit—even when you may not see the fruit.
Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to his church. The Spirit comforts us, corrects us, and gives gifts of preaching, faith, wisdom, prophecy, evangelism, healing, and other skills that support and encourage the service of the church. The apostle Paul reminds us that our Lord gives many different gifts through the Holy Spirit, but they are all for the good of his people and their witness to the world.
WORTHY OF WORSHIP
Materials for this station: a nearby tree
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Christ ascended to heaven to show there that he is head of his church, the one through whom the Father rules all things.
—Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 50
Look at this tree and think about how it gives glory to God. What does each part of the tree (trunk, branches, leaves, roots) teach you about worship?
How can you worship in a similar way? What would it look like to offer every part of yourself to honor Christ?
Take some time to place yourself before the Lord in worship.
Resurrected and ascended, Jesus is the glorified head of the church. When we worship him, we participate with all the saints and angels in heaven who gather around his throne. We also join with all creation in giving glory to our creator. This is a joy and a responsibility, and we know that Christ is worthy of our praise.
Materials for this station: wooden cross, hammer and nails, cards with the text of Colossians 2:13–14
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
By his power he defends us and keeps us safe from all our enemies. Christ will cast all his enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation, but will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into the joy and glory of heaven.
—Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 51b, 52a
As you pick up a nail and feel it in your hand, think of a burden that you are carrying today. Maybe it is guilt or shame for something you have done wrong, or concern for someone you love.
Hold this burden before the Lord. When you are ready, hammer the nail into the board and allow Jesus to take your burden.
Take a card to remind you that Christ is the final victor over sin; nothing in heaven or on earth can separate you from his love.
Jesus used the image of a shepherd and sheep to describe his relationship to his followers. Just as a shepherd protects the flock from danger, our Lord provides us with safety from the work of the enemy. Ascended to heaven, Christ has been given all power to conquer sin and death. We trust in him to forgive our sins.
Materials for this station: hand-sized flat stones, a pre-made cairn
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
In all distress and persecution, with uplifted head, I confidently await the very judge who has already offered himself to the judgment of God in my place and removed the whole curse from me.
—Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 52b
Pick up a stone and feel its weight. Think and pray about what your citizenship in heaven means to you.
Place your stone on or next to the cairn. Remember that your confidence is found in Christ alone, not in anything you can do or create.
These stones are a symbol of our hope in Christ, both for you personally and for our collective church family.
The ascended Christ reigns from heaven, and we wait for the day when he will return to bring us to himself. Trusting in Christ to sustain us through the troubles of our lives, this is our confidence and hope. When he returns in victory, we will no longer struggle against sin. Our bodies will be made new, and we will be raised to heaven with our Lord and Savior.