By the time you start thinking about Ascension and Pentecost services Easter will have passed. Pastors and worship leaders are giving a collective sigh of relief that they have reached this stretch of Ordinary Time without any great expectations for special services. But wait—the gospel story isn’t over yet. Christ has been raised from the dead, but the story continues through Christ’s ascension and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and beyond. It is with the giving of the Holy Spirit that we join the story.
He is gone, above the sun ascended,
His body risen to beyond our eyes,
Our years together on earth have ended,
We look with longing out on empty skies.
To baptize disciples of all nations,
Preaching his word to strange and hostile lands,
To rise against our old hesitations,
To be our Saviour’s pair of earthly hands.
We shall not be lonely, the Spirit nears,
Breathing love through us to be passed on,
The past confusion as debris clears,
Building up Christ’s body now he has gone.
Reformed Worship editors asked a few subscribers the following questions about the significance of Ascension Day and how it should be acknowledged in our worship.
- How significant is Ascension Day for the church?
- How much attention should it receive in our worship? Should there be a worship service on Ascension Day? Incorporated into worship the Sunday before or after? Or something else?
Here are the responses of Pastor Eric Dirksen and Professor of Christian Worship Rod Snaterse.
Not long after my recent book Why We Listen to Sermons (Calvin Press, 2019) was released, my colleague John Witvliet and I had a conversation about it at Calvin Seminary’s annual President’s Legacy Society luncheon. John noted that if he had to choose who the book’s main character or actor was, it would clearly be the person of the Holy Spirit. And indeed, that was exactly my intention.
In an age of unprecedented division, when so many people around us experience racism, hatred, deportations, and fear, the church is called into unity and a spirit of Pentecost hospitality, working toward the day of re-creation. On that day everything will be made new, and all will join together around the heavenly throne, singing praises to the heavenly King in a beautiful chorus of many languages: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).
Pentecost often falls right around the end of the school year, presenting an opportunity to celebrate those in your congregation who are graduating and remind them that, as believers of Christ, they have the Holy Spirit in them wherever they go—the same Spirit who gives them particular gifts and abilities.
O God the Holy Ghost
Who art light unto thine elect
Evermore enlighten us.
Thou who art fire of love
Evermore enkindle us.
Thou who art Lord and Giver of Life,
Evermore live in us.
Thou who bestowest sevenfold grace,
Evermore replenish us.
As the wind is thy symbol,
So forward our goings.
As the dove, so launch us heavenwards.
As water, so purify our spirits.
As a cloud, so abate our temptations.
As dew, so revive our languor.
As fire, so purge our dross.
Finding uplifting, theologically sound music for worship is a complex task! We’ve had many conversations in our congregation in recent years about how to mix up our singing. Our annual fee for a copyright license (CCLI) opens up thousands of songs to us. But then we have to figure out which ones we want to learn. Who will teach the congregation new songs? Or will the song leader just sing them for us? Which ones will become beloved and familiar? Sometimes I end up writing Didn’t go over well or Don’t use in the margin of the office copy of my hymnal.
Chris Stoffel Overvoorde was named an editorial consultant for Reformed Worship in its very first issue (RW 1, Fall 1986). His assignment was to encourage Reformed Worship in the thoughtful and creative use of visual arts in worship, a role he faithfully fulfilled for almost thirty years. The Reformed tradition has always excelled in the words of worship; indeed, our heritage is very word heavy. But Overvoorde’s enthusiasm for the visual arts helped adults, like children, to open their eyes as well as their ears when they come to worship.
Most Christians who read the Bible notice that “grace” and “peace” are mentioned quite frequently—not merely in isolation, but together.
In fact, in the New Testament, the terms are paired together seventeen times. Grace and peace are mentioned together in Romans,
1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Peter, and eleven other New Testament books. Clearly this pairing is not incidental, but speaks to what we as believers need in our everyday walk with Christ.
This service is fully based on Psalm 86 with quotes from other psalms throughout. It follows a basic pattern of the congregation reading a verse or two from Psalm 86, offering a prayer based on those verses, and then singing a related song or two. The service has two main sections: a plea for help because we are so needy, and our dependence on God, who is loving and faithful. Though the psalms are written in first person, they are understood as a corporate expression.
This prayer service is designed to help us pray through the spoken and sung Word as well as to learn about prayer through the preached Word. The service outline itself is a lesson in prayer: it’s based on the ACTS prayer pattern of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
In the thanksgiving section, people are invited to simultaneously share testimonies of thanksgiving in a word, phrase, or sentence spoken right from their seat. This is meant to be a great cacophony of sound, a room full of expressions of thanks.
After the two 5′ x 12′ inkjet-printed banners were hung, the church office manager came up behind me and said, “I think we might need to include an artist’s statement in the bulletin.” What? Who could possibly not see what we were trying to visualize here?