Songs for Ascension: Looking Beyond Your Hymnal
Breakout session by Greg Scheer from With a Shout, a day-long conference held in 2006 exploring the meaning of the Ascension culminated in a community worship service at Woodlawn CRC.
Breakout session by Greg Scheer from With a Shout, a day-long conference held in 2006 exploring the meaning of the Ascension culminated in a community worship service at Woodlawn CRC. The conference and service were co-sponsored by the Dean of the Chapel, Calvin College, and the Center for Excellence in Preaching.
Handout from Greg Scheer:
Psalm 47 (or Psalm 93)
I’ve tried to include a wide variety of songs so any church would find something new that is useful in their context. Enough information should be included with each song to allow you to track it down. Songs with an asterisk are highly recommended.
- A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing (public domain)
A text that tells the whole Ascension story. In the LBW the seven verse text appears with the same tune as “All Creatures of Our God and King” (LASST UNS ERFREUEN). In PH 141 it uses the tune DEO GRACIAS, but only has three verses. Here the seven-verse text is paired with a Medieval sounding arrangement of DEO GRACIAS.
- Above All (Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche)
Though the text centers more on Christ’s crucifixion, the phrase “above all” and the themes of majesty connect well with the Ephesians lectionary text.
- Agnus Dei/Alleluia, for the Lord God Almighty Reigns (Michael W. Smith)
A general song of praise that touches on the reign of the Lamb.
- All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (Coronation: PH 142, PsH 471, RL 595, RN 45, TH 296, TWC 95, UMH 154; Diadem: PH 143, TH 297, TWC 93, UMH 155; Miles Lane: RL 594)
- Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen (WOV 674)
An Easter song that refers in verse 5 to Jesus’ reign. Would be a good hymn to use the last Sunday of Eastertide.
- Alleluia! Sing to Jesus (public domain text, tune c.2005, Greg Scheer)
Another classic Ascension hymn, in this case set to new music for variety.
- At the Name of Jesus (PH 148, PsH 467, RL 336, RN 279, TH 163, TWC 266, UMH 168)
A regal hymn that traces Christ’s powerful presence in creation, crucifixion and ascension. It also encourages us to enthrone him in our hearts as we await his final return.
- Be Unto Your Name (Gary Sadler and Lynn DeShazo)
A powerful text and haunting melody that communicate well the eternal reign of Christ.
- Before the Throne of God Above (Charitie Lees Bancroft and Vikki Cook)
An old text set to a new tune. It reminds us that Christ continues to act on our behalf.
- Blessing and Honor (PH 147)
The text is an excellent summary of Ascension themes and theology. The tune O QUANTA QUALIA is common (“Here from All Nations” PsH 235).
- Blessing, Honor, and Glory (W&P 21)
Well-written “old school” praise song.
- Christ Is Alive! Let Christians Sing (PH 108, PsH 413, RN 300, TWC 243, UMH 318)
Brian Wren’s text clearly articulates the implications of Christ ascending to heaven in his humanity.
- Christ the Lord Is Risen Today (public domain)
It may seem too strongly wed to Easter Day, but notice the verse that states “Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!/Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!/Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!/Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!”
- Christ, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor (see Reformed Worship 75)
- Clap Your Hands All You Nations/Psalm 47 (John Bell, 1993 GIA from Psalms of Patience, Protest and Praise, also in SNC 156)
A joyous song based on the lectionary Psalm that presents a good opportunity for call and response between the choir/leader and congregation.
- Clap Your Hands, O Faithful People! (in Michael Morgan’s Psalter for Christian Worship).
A modern metrical version of Psalm 47 set to the tune CWM RHONDDA (“Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”).
- Come Away to the Skies (WOV 669)
Wesley paired with Kentucky Harmony tune. The text addresses the theme of us rising and reigning with Christ.
- Come, Christians, Join to Sing
A good choice for an opening hymn on Ascension Day. It is a well-known tune with a text that wraps up Ascension themes into jubilant praise.
- Crown Him King of Kings (Sharon Damazio)
A simple praise song that works well as a connector between songs. The “King of Kings” theme fits well with Ascension and the “Wonderful, Counselor, Emmanuel” theme fits well with Advent—perhaps this is a song to connect the Incarnation with the Ascension?
- Crown Him with Many Crowns (PH 151, PsH 410, RL 600, RN 56, SFL 181, TH 295, TWC 92, UMH 327)
- Earth’s Scattered Isles and Contoured Hills (PH 152)
Great text that offers hope in light of Christ’s triumph.
- El Cielo Canta/Heaven Is Singing (Sosa; Halle, Halle, 11 and WP2 18)
Not strictly speaking an Ascension song, but it is a good option for general praise in a global style for Ascension Day.
- Glory to the Lamb (Larry Dempsey)
Another short praise song that works well as a connecting song.
- Glory to God, We Give You Thanks (WOV 787)
Festive tune, great text. Could also be used as a Gloria or in conjunction with communion.
- Go in Peace and Serve the Lord (Handt Hanson; W&P 46)
Goes with Acts 1:1-11 reading.
- Go, Make Disciples (Handt Hanson; W&P 47)
Goes with Acts 1:1-11 reading.
- God Has Gone Up with Shouts of Joy! (SNC 154)
Great text which combines the image of Psalm 47 with Christ’s work.
- God Mounts His Throne (Haugen; GC 36)
Modern Catholic setting of Psalm 47. Would be a good way to introduce responsorial Psalmody and cantoring to your congregation.
- Great Is the Lord (W&P 53)
Doesn’t fit the ascension theme like a glove, but would be appropriate as a general song of praise.
- Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise (PsH 409, RL 331, TH 290, TWC 258, UMH 312)
- Hail Thee, Festival Day (LBW 142)
There are verses for Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Consider using the song throughout all three seasons: the choir could introduce the song as an anthem, and then invite the congregation to join the singing in proceeding weeks or seasons. One way to simplify the song for congregations to whom it is unfamiliar is to have the choir/cantor sing the verses and congregation only join the refrain.
- Hallelu (Ron Williams; sung by Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir)
A great “mass choir” call to worship. Makes a good introduction to black gospel for Anglo choirs.
- He Is Exalted (Twila Paris; RN 238, SNC 41, W&P 55)
A classic praise song that is appropriate for the day.
- He Is King of Kings (LMGM 86)
Simple spiritual that presents an opportunity for improvised call and response.
- He Is Lord (Lois Bock; SNC 160)
“He is risen from the dead” and “every knee shall bow” makes a good connection between Easter and Ascension.
- Here I Am to Worship (Hughes)
Second verse: “King of all days, oh, so highly exalted, glorious in heaven above.”
- I See the Lord (Chris Falson)
It’s unfortunate that this song peaked and faded with the Promise Keeper movement—it’s a solid song that has served the Church well.
- Jesús, Es Mi Rey Soberano/Our King and Our Sovereign, Lord Jesus (PH 157)
Simple song of praise from Mexico that is best accompanied by the guitar. Fun melody to sing.
- Kadosh/Holy (Elisheva Shamron)
A haunting melody from the messianic movement.
- Let His Name Be Lifted Up (c. 1993 Greg Scheer, CCLI#1276258)
A simple song that expresses the “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” theme that is part of the arc of the Ascension story.
- Lift Up Your Heads (W&P 88, SRC 321)
Though based on Psalm 24, which is not specifically an ascension Psalm, Kendrick does refer to the ascension and reign of Christ in verses two and three.
- Look, the Sight is Glorious (LBW 156)
G minor, regal hymn. Good choice for a congregation that doesn’t do P&W or global, but would like to expand its Ascension repertoire.
- Lord Most High (Sadler/Harris; SNC 47)
Well-written praise song that expresses the sovereignty of Christ.
- Lord, I Lift Your Name on High (SNC 157, SRC 330)
“From the cross to the grave, from the grave into the sky.”
- Lord, You Give the Great Commission (WOV 756)
This connects to the beginning portion of the Acts reading.
- Majesty (W&P 94, and elsewhere)
I’m not wild about this one, but it’s certainly useful if it’s already in your church’s repertoire.
- Nations, Clap Your Hands (PsH 47)
Yes, this one is in your hymnal, but for churches who have shied away from the Genevan Psalter, this is a great place to start.
- O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright (public domain, arrangement c. 2006 Greg Scheer/CICW)
The text ties together the sun with the Son very effectively.
- Open Our Eyes, Lord (Cull; SNC 80)
Lectionary aids often recommend this song for Ascension, but in my opinion the text and music don’t emphasize opening our eyes to see Christ in his majesty enough to warrant its use.
- Open the Eyes of My Heart (Paul Baloche)
Particularly appropriate for Ascension: it complements the lectionary reading from Ephesians and addresses Jesus as the one who is “high and lifted up.”
- Rejoice, the Lord Is King (public domain)
The quintessential Ascension hymn.
- Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart (PH 146)
For a change of pace, use the tune VINEYARD HAVEN as found in PH 146.
- Salvation Belongs to Our God (Adrian Howard and Pat Turner, c. 1985 Restoration Music Ltd. adm. Sovereign Music UK)
An underutilized praise song that reflects the grandeur of Revelation 4 and 5 well.
- Shine, Jesus, Shine (Graham Kendrick; W&P 123, and elsewhere)
I think of this more as a transfiguration song, but the themes work for the ascension as well.
- Shout to the Lord (Darlene Zschech)
A general song of praise whose “shout” imagery goes well with the Psalm 47 theme of God going up with a shout.
- Shout to the North (Martin Smith)
Touches on some Ascension themes.
- Since Our Great High Priest, Christ Jesus (PsH 230)
Christ, acting as high priest on our behalf.
- Sing a New Song to God (SNC 33)
There are verses for entrance, praise, confession, thanksgiving and one specifically for Ascension. It could be effectively used throughout the service.
- Sing of His Victory (Egypt/Coptic; WP2 86)
Singable tune with words that express both the worthiness of Christ and the renewal of his people.
- Soon and Very Soon (Andre Crouch; SNC 106)
Expresses the hope that Christ’s kingship gives us.
- The First Place (c. 1999 Matthew Westerholm)
Not a well-known praise song, but one that brilliantly portrays Christ’s reign over heaven, earth and our hearts.
- The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns (public domain)
- The Most Excellency Is Jesus (c. 1995 Geoff Weaver/Jubilate Hymns; WP2 #95)
A vibrant song from Nigeria that is fun to sing. In very simple terms it lifts up the unsurpassed greatness of Jesus.
- The Savior Leaves (c. 1988 The Iona Community/GIA; found in Enemy of Apathy p. 86)
An insightful text, as one would expect from John Bell. The tune’s ascending fourths are not typical Bell, but very interesting nonetheless.
- Throw Down Your Crowns (c. 1997 Glenn Kaiser/Garr Music)
A solid, singable praise song from the leader of Rez Band that emphasizes our surrender to Christ in light of his worthiness.
- We Fall Down (Chris Tomlin)
Many praise songs center on bowing down to Christ and singing “holy.” This one does it exceptionally well.
- We Will Glorify (Twila Paris; W&P 154, RN 33, SFL 18, SNC 21, TWC 118)
Classic Twila that works with praise band, piano or organ.
- What Praise Emerged from Waiting Lips (see Reformed Worship 75)
Possible transition from Ascension to Pentecost.
- Worthy, You Are Worthy (Don Moen)
Simple and singable, it makes a good transition song.
- You Are Crowned with Many Crowns (SNC 158; John Sellers, c. 1984 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music)
Upbeat 80s praise song. Great if you do this sort of thing. I suggest repeating the first section at least twice before proceeding to the 8 bar tag in C minor.
Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations
LBW Lutheran Book of Worship
LMGM Lead Me, Guide Me (GIA Publications, Inc.)
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SRC The Source (volume 1)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
W&P Worship & Praise Songbook
WP2 World Praise 2: Songs and Hymns for a New Millennium (LifeWay Books)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)
Also from the conference:
- Opening Worship: How We See Things - Psalm 47
- First plenary: A Face Like This One: The Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension
- Second plenary: Ascension, Adoption, and Homecoming
- Third plenary: The Meaning of Ascension for Christian Scholars
- The Ascension in the Mission, Worship and Education of the Church
- Integrating the Ascension into Teaching and Scholarship
- Community Worship: Investing in a Field of Flesh