Besides Ash Wednesday, I think Ascension Day is the next most uneventful day in many churches of the Methodist tradition. Year in, year out, Ascension Day –which occurs 40 days after Easter Sunday, and hence is always a Thursday – comes and goes quietly with no one in the congregation even knowing it. For centuries, Ascension Day (which marks the ascension of Jesus) has been one of the major festivals in the church year. This year, Ascension Day falls on 5 May 2016.
Notwithstanding the many scientific questions about physics and space travel that Christians and contemporary people may ask with regard to the ascension of Jesus, this essential doctrine is staunchly embedded in the Apostles’ Creed and reveals the continuing work of God in our world. The ascension affirms that what God begins, God completes.1
The incarnate Christ, the One who suffered and died on the cross for all humanity, is exalted and given the highest praise and greatest glory at His resurrection. Now, Christ’ s high-priestly act of atonement finds completion in His ascension into the perfect tabernacle, not made with human hands, into the Holy of Holies, to commence His ministry of heavenly intercession for us as the one and only mediator between God and man.2
Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘ Jesus Shall Reign’ directs our attention to the significance of Christ’ s ascension. Known as the father of English hymnody, Isaac Watts based the text of this hymn on Psalm 72:12-19, which was metrically set in a “Christianised”version after the manner of the Jewish Psalter. Originally written in eight stanzas and entitled ‘ Christ’ s Kingdom among the Gentiles’ , the text was published along with 138 other metrical psalms in Watts’ Psalms of David, Imitated (1719).
Watts’ powerful text emphasises a view of Jesus as the triumphant King, whose worldwide reign extends “from shore to shore” (stanza 1).3 Jesus Christ has conquered death and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, to rule over the whole universe. Jesus is to be praised by all creatures (stanza 2 and 5) and in every tongue (stanza 3). So let us, with majestic singing, “approach God’ s throne of grace with confidence”, (Heb. 4:16a) to echo “the loud amen”.
1Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 67.
2Gerrit Scott Dawson, Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub, 2004), 117.
3 Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion: Insight into Three Hundred Christian Hymns (Wilton: Morehouse Barlow, 1985), 148.
Jesus Shall Reign (The United Methodist Hymnal, #157)
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
does its successive journeys run,
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
till moons shall wax and wane no more.
To him shall endless prayer be made,
and praises throng to crown his head.
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
with every morning sacrifice.
People and realms of every tongue
dwell on his love with sweetest song,
and infant voices shall proclaim
their early blessings on his name.
Blessings abound where’er he reigns:
the prisoners leap to lose their chains,
the weary find eternal rest,
and all who suffer want are blest.
Let every creature rise and bring
the highest honors to our King,
angels descend with songs again,
and earth repeat the loud amen.
Words: Isaac Watts, 1719 (Ps. 72)
Music: John Hatton, 1793
Picture by icarmen13/Bigstock.com
Dr Yeo Teck Beng –is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.