Ascension (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Thursday, June 2, 2011
There’s a rock band called Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Kind of an odd name for a band, but there are plenty of odd names out there. Rumor has it that Clap Your Hand Say Yeah got their name from some graffiti that they saw—graffiti scrawled out on the side of a building that said, “Clap your hands say yeah.” As far as I know, no one tracked down the graffiti artist to ask about what they meant, why they were encouraging people to clap their hands, but I kind of wonder if they weren’t inspired by Psalm 47, the psalm for tonight, the psalm that starts off by saying, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.”
“Clap your hands say yeah” sounds like a way to sum up what Psalm 47 is all about, a psalm that’s calling on us to celebrate and praise the Lord, praise Him as the King over all kings, the Ruler over all people. Psalm 47 is a call to worship, a worldwide call to all people to worship the Lord. Like painting it on the side of a building for all people to see, Psalm 47 paints this huge picture, this picture of every nation praising the Lord.
And that’s a beautiful picture, this worldwide call for people to praise the true and living Lord, for people all over the world to worship God. It’s like that old Coca-Cola commercial, where there’s all of these people from all over the world, all kinds of people, and they’re drinking Coke of course, but they’re also singing, I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Well, Psalm 47 is kind of like that. I’d like to teach the world sing and praise the Lord above. It’s a psalm that calls us, all of us, it’s a worldwide call for us to praise the Lord.
But why Psalm 47 today? Why Psalm 47 on Ascension, the day we celebrate that Jesus ascended into heaven? Probably the tradition of using Psalm 47 on this day came from one verse, one line in the middle of the psalm, verse 5: “God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.” It’s a tremendous little verse for describing the glorious event that occurred this day—40 days after Easter. It’s a tremendous picture for the glory of the Ascension, the victory and celebration that marks this occasion, that marks Jesus returning to the Father.
Looking back now we can certainly see that Jesus ascending into heaven is an occasion for worship, praise, and clapping your hands. We can look back and see this. Jesus ascended into heaven which means He would be sending the Holy Spirit, which means He is with the Father, which means He is praying for us, pleading to the Father for us, which means He is at the right hand of God the Father, the position of honor, power, and authority, Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, authority to watch over and save us, authority that He will use for our good. Looking back, we can see that Jesus ascending into heaven is a wonderful thing, a thing like the Psalm talks about, a thing for rejoicing and shouting and trumpets. Clap your hands say yeah.
But when those disciples stared up into the sky, they probably weren’t clapping their hands. They weren’t tuning up their trumpets. They probably weren’t filled with joy and worship. They stood there staring into the sky wondering just what this mean, just what it meant that their Lord, their Savior had been taken away from them—again. First, Jesus dies, and they figured it was all over. But then He came back, they started to understand, they started to see that there was hope, there was victory, there was something more than death.
But then Jesus ascends into the sky, goes up to heaven, goes out of their sight, and so here they are once again wondering what they’ll do, wondering what it means that Jesus came to save His people but now He’s gone.
Clap your hands say yeah? I don’t think so.
The disciples went and huddled up again in Jerusalem, huddled up and wondered what was going to happen, huddled up and locked the doors for fear of the Jews and kept their mouths shut. For 10 days, the 10 days between now and Pentecost, Pentecost the day that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit on the disciples, for 10 days, I doubt there was much clapping hands and saying yeah.
And who can blame the disciples, because really are we that much different. I mean, when you’re overcome by what’s happening in your life, when you really realize how much suffering there is around us, when you look for spiritual answers and can’t seem to find them, when you need Jesus and He doesn’t seem to be there, when you find yourself staring up into the sky and wondering where God is, well, then you’re probably not in the mood to clap your hands say yeah.
If you recognize that feeling, well, then maybe we can start to understand why the disciples weren’t probably singing Psalm 47 as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven. They were probably confused, scared, lonely, wondering just what they were going to do.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, there’s many times when we’re confused, scared, lonely, wondering just we’re going to do.
Then along comes an evening of celebration, an evening like tonight, an evening meant to annually remind us of the glory and victory of Jesus, the truth about who Jesus is, the truth about His ascending into heaven, the truth that He is more than just in heaven but that He’s with us everywhere, the truth that He has all power and authority in heaven and on earth, the truth that He promised to come back for us again, the truth that He will come to take us to be with Him forever. Tonight is about celebrating all of these truths, celebrating, clap your hands say yeah. Tonight is about recognizing that there’s something bigger happening, something beyond what we can see, something beyond the mystery of the clouds as we stare at the sky, something beyond the confusion, fear, loneliness, and wondering, something that’s incredible, glorious, victorious, something that really does cause you to clap your hands say yeah.
And really that’s the ache inside us, the ache to believe in something bigger than us, something beyond what we know in this world. There’s an ache to believe in something bigger, and that ache goes back to when this psalm was written. It wasn’t written because the people of Israel had experienced everything about God. It was written in response to a glimmer of that hope, a glimpse of the reality that goes beyond what they could see. Psalm 47 was written to be used in the Temple as the Ark of the Covenant, the box that carries the tablets of the Law of God, as that Ark was carried into the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Temple. It was a moment that signified God’s presence coming into the Temple, God’s presence to come and be among the people, God coming to bring them forgiveness, hope, and salvation. So Psalm 47 celebrates God coming into His Temple. Clap your hands say yeah. “God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.” Clap your hands say yeah.
And bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple, seeing God ascend to the Holy of Holies, seeing God’s presence, well, that was just a foretaste of what the disciples would experience in Jesus, a foretaste of experiencing God’s presence in the person of Jesus. The disciples had experienced God’s grace, love, and forgiveness in Jesus. He had taught them, led them, showed them incredible miracles, called them to be His servants on a mission. Jesus had lived among them and showed them that He and the Father are One.
And yet, that still was just another foretaste, a foretaste of the victory and hope they would experience after Jesus rose from the dead. What they experienced before Jesus died on the cross, well, that just pointed to the resurrection reality they would experience after Easter. Jesus would come and stand among them despite locked doors. Jesus would show them His hands and His side. Jesus would call them into service on His mission once again. Jesus would point to the greater reality going on, the reality that is bigger than earthly death, the reality that death is conquered and life has victory in Him.
But then today we see that the Easter reality was still just another foretaste, that the Easter reality wasn’t the ultimate hope, that Jesus ascended into heaven saying that He’d be back, that He’d come back to bring about a final reality, a great reality, a wonderful, eternal, lasting, loving, ultimate reality. The Easter reality isn’t the whole story; there’s another day coming, there’s a day coming with eternal life, a new world, a new life, a life forever with our God.
So it makes sense that we’d be staring into the sky today, that you’d hesitate before you clap your hands say yeah, that you’d be confused about what’s going on, because we’re standing here staring into the sky wondering when that ultimate reality will come. It makes sense that we’re staring into the sky, because we’re still waiting for the ultimate reality. God in the Temple was just a foretaste. Jesus on the Earth was just a foretaste. Jesus rising from the dead was just a foretaste. All of those things were very, very, very important foretastes, hints of what is yet to come, but none of them are what we’re really waiting for. What we’re really waiting for is for Jesus to return again. We’re waiting for Him to return and bring us to eternal life. And when we see Him return, there’ll be no question about it. You’ll definitely clap your hands say yeah.
But until that day, until that day, how are you going to live your life? How are you going to live your life now? Sure, there’s times when we’re overwhelmed by the tragedies of life, the sorrows that surround us, there’s plenty of times when we catch ourselves staring into the sky.
But then what did the angels say to the disciples as they stared up into the sky, what did the angels say? “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Jesus will come back, so go, live your life; go, follow His mission; go, wait for the Holy Spirit; go, serve God and serve others; go, live your life as God’s chosen people; go, clap your hands say yeah.
So today if you find yourself staring into the sky, wondering what God is going to do with your life, instead of standing here staring into the sky, go, life your life; go, celebrate God with the way you live; celebrate God with the way you serve other people; go, follow Jesus with your life; go in the confidence of the forgiveness, hope, and salvation in Jesus Christ; go, knowing that He will come back for you; go, confident that He remains with you as you go; go, live your life; go, clap your hands say yeah; go, praise God with your life; go, call all people to praise God; go, you are His children forever.
He has given you a foretaste of the things to come, He has pointed to the reality of His love and forgiveness, He has told you there’s an ultimate reality coming for you, so go, step off the curb, step off the mountain, go back to the city, go back to your daily life, go back to where you’re from; go, celebrate God with your daily lives; go, clap your hands say yeah.