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“O Christ, When You Ascended”

TITLE:"O Christ, When You Ascended"
AUTHOR: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
COMPOSER: Henry T. Smart
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3087
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 64:8; Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11; Philippians 2:10-11
TOPICS: Ascension; Call/Calling; Church; Creation; Earth; Environment; Eternity; Guidance; Holy Spirit; Kingdom of God; Life/Living; Power and Might; Prayer; Reign of Christ; Sin; Temptation


Carolyn Winfrey Gillette grew up in a Methodist family. Her father was a graduate of Drew Seminary. She was baptized and confirmed in Methodist congregations. She graduated from United Methodist Church-related Lebanon Valley College and received her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1985. Her hymns are found on the national websites of the Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR, the Presbyterian Church (USA), American Baptist Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Reformed Church in America, the Souper Bowl of Caring, the National Council of Churches, and Church World Service. Carolyn's book, Songs of Grace: New Hymns for God and Neighbor, was published in 2009 by Upper Room Books. Another book, Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today's Worship (Geneva Press, 2000), is a collection of forty-five of her hymns. Her hymns are also in the new supplements for the Episcopal and Presbyterian hymnals. Carolyn and her husband Bruce have been the co-pastors of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, since August 2004. They had previously served as co-pastors in Pitman, New Jersey, for ten years. They are the parents of three children (John, Catherine, and Sarah).

Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879) studied music early with his father, but he was mostly self-taught as an organist and composer. His London appointments included St. Philip's and St. Pancras for the last fourteen years of his life. In addition to designing organs, he composed an opera, cantatas, songs, anthems, services, organ music and hymn tunes; and he was noted as an improviser and champion of congregational song. He also edited the music of The Choral Book (1858) and The Presbyterian Psalter and Hymnal (1877-78). Two of Smart's hymn tunes are among many congregations' favorites: LANCASHIRE and REGENT SQUARE.


The ascension of Jesus into Heaven is found in the conclusion of Luke's gospel, Luke 24:50-53, following the post-Resurrection appearance to his disciples. The Ascension has never been one of the most observed of our holy days, even though we recall it each time we say the Apostles' Creed, "He ascended into heaven." Gillette's text says in the last line of stanza three, quite paradoxically, "But your ascension means, Lord, you're present with us here." She writes further of this idea:

The ascension of Jesus doesn't mean that Jesus leaves us; it means he is present to us in a new way, through God's Spirit, and through his prayers for us. Christ is no longer limited by the things that limit the rest of us; he reigns over everything. He is no longer simply Jesus of the past; he is with us today.

There is a sequence to this hymn:

  • Stanza 1: Jesus ascended to heaven where he rules the world, prays for and leads the church daily.
  • Stanza 2: Jesus is not bound by the constraints of time and place that constrain earthly rulers.
  • Stanza 3: Christ's ascension means that he is present with us on earth, even in times of loneliness, doubt and fear.
  • Stanza 4: We find it difficult to devote our whole being – all that we have and all that we are - to Christ.
  • Stanza 5: But the day will come when "Christ's reign will be fully known. Until then, we wait and hope, and look forward to the day when all heaven and earth will celebrate together."


The LANCASHIRE tune was composed in 1835 on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the English Reformation, set at that time to Reginald Heber's text, "From Greenland's Icy Mountain." Smart included it in his hymnal, Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship, published by the Presbyterian Church of England in 1867. Most British hymnals do not include this tune, but it is popular in American hymnals, often paired with "Lead On, O King Eternal," "Go, Make of All Disciples," and "The Day of Resurrection."

LANCASHIRE is a strong tune, which when paired with a particular text, contributes well to a spirit of urgency, militancy, or strength. The bass line is more melodic in nature than many hymn tunes, while also including pedal points for a sense of tension and expectation. The first three phrases all ending on the dominant harmony may contribute to the sense of expectancy and urgency, of moving on to a conclusion. The third phrase's melodic and harmonic sequence moves to a climactic conclusion in the final phrase.


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