Prayers, Litanies and History for Ascension Day by Paul Neeley

by Christine Sine

I had not planned to post a new resource list for Ascension Day this year but was made aware of this excellent list that Paul Neeley put together and asked permission to repost it from his blog Global Christian Worship. Paul is an “ethnodoxologist” involved in the study and creation of Christian worship around the world. He teaches at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies and co-founded the International Council of Ethnodoxologists

The Ascension celebrates the day that Christ, in the presence of His apostles, ascended bodily into Heaven. The Ascension occurred on the 40th day of Easter, so it falls on a Thursday, and thus is often called Ascension Thursday.However, in many churches, the celebration of the Ascension has been transferred to the following Sunday, six weeks after Easter 2015 – so May 17 in 2015.

1. History: Although no documentary evidence of the Feast of the Ascension exists prior to the beginning of the 5th century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles.

2. Zac Hicks says we can ask, “Why do we give a special day to that event that seems nothing more than Jesus’ travel plans between earth and heaven?” He then goes on to suggest this symbolic theological reason:

When we think about the rituals associated with atonement and reconciliation between humanity and God, we see this (summarized) pattern:

  • Sacrifice outside the Holy of Holies
  • Entry into the Holy of Holies
  • Fellowship with God in the Holy of Holies

The cross is obviously the sacrifice.  The resurrection enables the sacrifice’s perpetual, living intercession.  But without the ascension, there is no approach to God.  There is no entry.  The sacrifice (and we along with it) remain outside the Holy of Holies, outside rich, deep union and communion with God.

Put simply, then, ascension-less Christianity is like the priest never walking into the Holy of Holies.  There’s no journey into intimate fellowship with God.  It would be as if the whole sacrificial progression were at a stand-still, because, though the sacrifice were made, no further movement of intercession and mediation were made.  The blood of the sacrifice stays outside, and it doesn’t sprinkle the altar.

In other words, the ascension (and session [Christ’s seating at the right hand of the Father]) helps seal for us what the crucifixion and the resurrection did.  Christ is interceding, pleading His blood, and praying for us in the very presence of God the Father right now and ongoingly because the ascension happened (Heb 7:25).

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3. Ron Man gives a related quote:

Although the critical point in Jesus’ ministry comes at the cross, the climatic point, as far as Hebrews is concerned, happens at the ascension. For Hebrews the ascension is the great liturgical moment for humanity. It is the pinnacle of Christ’s redemptive work because a human being enters the heavenly place of God’s presence and sits at his right hand.

(Christopher Cocksworth, Holy, Holy, Holy, p. 157)

4. Another aspect of the Ascension is that it is leads to Christ’s coronation as King of the Universe in specific fulfillment of Daniel 7:13, 14: I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

5.  John Piper – 6 reasons Jesus’s ascension matters
Jesus continues to work after the ascension.
*  The ascended Lord Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to his people.
*  Jesus’s ascension is his heavenly enthronement as King.
*  Jesus’s ascension is his return to his Father.
* The ascended Lord Jesus is our heavenly mediator and high priest.
* The ascended Lord Jesus will return as King and Judge in the same manner.

Here are some links to ideas and (non-musical) resources to celebrate the Ascension.

6. Read about a fascinating “visual representation of the Ascension using kites in an outside service.

7. A service using the teachings of the Heidelberg Catechism on the Ascension of Christ coordinated with Scripture readings and songs.

8. You’ll find art from various cultures depicting the Ascension in my previous blog posts

Ascension day paintings  and the triumphant Christ in Ascension Sadao

9. An excellent responsive reading

10. Psalm 47 is commonly used in this context:

God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of
the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
—Psalm 47:5-9 (NIV)

11. Lifted Up to Glory and Power: A [lengthy] Dramatic Reading with Four Voices for Ascension Sunday

12. ‘With a Shout,’ a day-long conference held in 2006, explored the meaning of the Ascension – materials are posted online

13. An issue of ‘Worship Notes’ by Ron Man, with an essay, an “Ascension Concordance,” relevant quotes, a model service, and song texts.

14.  Malcolm Guite A Sonnet for Ascension Day

15. A responsive reading Litany by Christine Sine

Because Jesus ascended  and sits at the right hand of God,
a new world has broken into ours –

a world in which justice does come for the poor,
freedom comes for the prisoners,
and healing for the sick.
Because Jesus ascended  and sits at the right hand of God,
a new community has been formed –

a community that loves and cares for all members,
a family that welcomes all who are abandoned and rejected,
a place where all find a place of belonging.
Because Jesus ascended  and sits at the right hand of God,
a new creation has begun –

all that was distorted is being restored,
all that is corrupted is being renewed,
all that was broken is being made whole.
Because Jesus ascended  and sits at the right hand of God, God’s new world has begun.

16. Christine Sine posted a number of helpful links to resources in this blog post

A pair of responsive readings that I really like includes
*  Ride on King Jesus: A Gathering Litany for Ascension Day
*  An Affirmation for Ascension Day (Based on Ephesians 1:15-22)

17. Suggested books:

Ascension Theology by Douglas B. Farrow

–  Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation by Gerrit Dawson

–  The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God by Jonny Woodrow & Tim Chester

Space, Time and Resurrection by Thomas Torrance

18. Resources from Steve Taylor added by Christine Sine

I also wanted to add these great resources from my friend Steve Taylor. Ascension day in worship And Ascension day theology 


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Resources for Ascension Day 2016 – Godspace April 27, 2016 - 3:14 am

[…] year I posted this very comprehensive and helpful list from Paul Neeley for Ascension […]

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