“Why Do You Peer into the Skies?” features brilliant work by two skilled artists—writer Lisa M. Clark and composer Jacob B. Weber. The text and tune tie very closely to Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ ascension, working together to share the message of God’s salvation and what His Son’s ascension means for us even today.
A New Anthem for Ascension Day
“Why Do You Peer into the Skies?” uses a new text and a bold tune. The piece is accessibly written for two-part mixed voices and organ. It is a welcome addition to the Ascension repertoire, as it provides celebratory treatment to the significant Feast Day of the Church Year.
The piece uses Acts 1:11 as its focus. This verse occurs immediately after Jesus’ ascension. The disciples are standing in awe looking up at the sky, and two angels appear and say to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Text Inspired by Imagery in Scripture
The hymn text helps explain the importance of Jesus’ ascension for Christians by referencing Pentecost and Jesus’ return. Lisa says about the piece, “I think Ascension is so key for Christians today because it puts these last days into context. We know that Jesus rose. Now what? Well, He’s coming again, so in the meantime, equipped with the Holy Spirit given on Pentecost, we go out and spread God’s Word, as Jesus commanded. It also reminds us of the importance of Jesus’ ascension for us personally. Because Jesus rose and ascended, we—connected to Him in Baptism—know that we, too, will rise and ascend. As we wait, we go out and tell all nations that all may know their Savior.”
In the three-year Lutheran lectionary, the readings for the Ascension of Our Lord are Acts 1:1–11, Ephesians 1:15–23, and Luke 24:44–53. Lisa was especially inspired by the Acts reading. “I just love that picture of Jesus’ followers looking up to heaven, staring. The angels basically say, ‘What are you doing? You heard Jesus. Get out there and spread the message! He’ll come back, just as He promised.’”
Here is the full text of the hymn:
Why do you peer into the skies,
Staring with open, wond’ring eyes?
See and believe that Christ came down,
Now claims again His holy crown:
Dying that all should be fulfilled,
Living as God the Father willed.
Why are you waiting on this hill?
This is no time for standing still.
Soon to receive the Spirit’s pow’r,
Pray and prepare for that great hour.
Filled with the Word, go out and tell:
Jesus defeated death and hell.
The reign of Satan now dispelled,
The reign of God is still upheld.
Shout to the Lord great songs of joy;
Reaching new ears, all fears destroy.
When trumpets sound, the great surprise:
He will return, and we will rise.
Adept Use of Symbolism in the Tune
Jacob Weber’s tune conveys the significance of Ascension just as much as the text does. The fanfare-like theme supports the text’s references to the trumpets of Judgment Day. With a moving tempo and frequent time-signature changes, the piece keeps performers and listeners on their toes. This is just like how Jesus commands us to pay attention and stay prepared because we never know when He will return.
And then, there is the glorious final chord—the shift from a mysterious F minor to a majestic F major. This references the replacement of fallen creation with the new creation. We spend our time on earth in mystery about when Jesus will return, and because of sin there is pain and sadness. But when Jesus comes again and we are resurrected, the pain and mystery will fall away, and we will experience joy and bask in the glory of our Lord!
Listen to the entire piece below:
Scripture quotations from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Hymn text copyright © 2015 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.