Thursday, June 2, 2011

Psalm 24

Today is Ascension Day.

This Psalm is about the worship of God by his people, in the Temple at Jerusalem. It’s made up of three distinct parts:

First, worship of God, the creator and sustainer of the earth and all that it contains.

Then it asks who will, who can, go up to worship him ? ‘Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord ? And who shall stand in his holy place?’ The worshipper should be a person with clean hands and a pure heart,who does not direct his thoughts to wrongdoing or swear deceitfully. Such a person God will bless.

Then we come to the so-called ‘Gate Liturgy’. In some symbolic way God is being brought into the Temple. This may go back to the first time that the Ark of the Covenant was taken in procession into the Temple. Perhaps there was a festival to celebrate this, and also, maybe, to re-enact God’s entering his holy place.

But it’s possible to re-read Psalm 24 as a psalm about Jesus: ‘Who shall ascend (to) the hill of the Lord ?’ This is Jesus going back up, at the end of his earthly ministry, to the place where God lives: ‘his holy place’.

Jesus is qualified to do this, because he, above all human beings, has clean hands and a pure heart. He has never set his mind on wrongdoing or sworn deceitfully.

He goes to receive justice and blessing from God. The gates and doors of heaven are told to open to receive Jesus back in.

Who exactly is Jesus ? He is a glorious king (because that is what ‘king of glory’ means) returning from a mighty victory.

This is where the Christian reading of the Psalm makes sense - for God is there, inside the ‘holy place’ - ready and waiting in heaven to bless.

But the one who is entering now, returning from his earthly mission - this Jesus, king of glory: he too is God ‘The king of glory IS the Lord of Hosts.’

The psalm gives us a vehicle to celebrate our risen and ascended Lord, both Man and God.

But Ascension is not just for Jesus, just as resurrection is not reserved for him. The whole point of his victory is that we should share its fruits.

The Ascension is the completion of Jesus’ story - birth, growing up, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, ascension. The story is complete - except for our part - our acceptance of his salvation, our following where he leads.

The carol reminds us that:

For that child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in Heaven above;
And He leads His children on
To the place where he is gone.

The great promise of the Ascension is that, after death, and in spite of death, we shall go to live in heaven. The details of when, or how, are not ours to understand, but in Jesus we have a sure and certain hope for a world, and a life, beyond this one.