Wednesday, May 28, 2014

God is gone up with a merry sound

Easter is nearly over for this year, Year A. Somehow I have noticed it more this year, perhaps because I have started to read and think about the lectionary in advance of Sunday. Again this week there is no OT lesson, but there is a choice of three Psalms depending on whether we use the Thursday lesson on Sunday or not. These are Psalms 47, 93 or 68.

Psalm 47 celebrates ascension, the same word we have seen as a theme in the past two weeks. Ascension is going up, aliyah in Hebrew, going up to read Torah, or going up to Israel for Jews returning to the land, or going into the house of God with burnt offerings.  Who can understand the ascension of Jesus as if it were a rocket launch. No. It is a going up into the presence of God, seated in the heavens, as Paul writes to the Ephesians. Seated implies a ruling monarch. To sit is to have been enthroned as ruler. Bill Morrow of Queen's University once commented that the whole of the OT is about governance. How do we humans govern ourselves with equity. We are still learning, aren't we.

Ascension is also about acceptance. In Hebrew, burnt offering is the same word as ascension. They are homonyms if you like, but I prefer to think that the one is the consequence of the other. The ascension of Jesus is a confirmation that his offering of himself on behalf of others has been and continues to be accepted by God. The ascension confirms the resurrection and the appointment, as we read last week, of the human who was raised from the dead as the one who judges with equity.

So - if our governance is on behalf of others, it conforms to his sacrifice and is acceptable. If our governance is not for others, but only for the protection of our jobs, or bonuses (even the gentiles do as much), or the benefit of a few at the expense of others, it does not conform and the result is various forms of inequity, catatonic bureaucracy, violent suppression, and incapacity.

Governance as a theme might be an interesting one to follow during ordinary time (soon to commence after Pentecost next week). Governance gives power over others. In Psalm 46 the weapons of war are destroyed. The LORD makes wars cease to the extremity of the earth, bow he breaks and sunders spear. Wagons he incinerates in the fire. In Psalm 47: The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; - i.e. the power of the state submits itself to the power of this God - what kind of a God is the God of Psalm 47?

In both the Gospel in Luke, and in Acts, the disciples are instructed to wait in the city for the power that will come upon them. We need to ask what kind of Spirit this is, what kind of power, and how we are to apply such knowledge to human governance. Many of the institutions that were built in Christendom incorporated such a spirit into their policy. I have seen with my own eyes and I still have the evidence of the power applied within process and bureaucracy in the administration of mercy. In this way cooperation rather than violence and incapacity was stimulated and engaged. So also in hospitals and schools as well as government such vital work should not be subject to the limitations of funding or convenience.

The power entrusted to the resurrected one seated in the heavens is available - not distant. We must learn to wait for it and to expect that creative factor to overcome our limitations. Then we can clap hands, or slap a palm, and shout for joy and sing a psalm with insight.

The music of Psalm 47 will stay on one page if I don't add the English. How would you fit an English underlay?  My translation is below.


For the leader Of the children of Korah a psalm

All the peoples sound the slap of a palm

Raise a shout to God with a loud voice of joy

for יהוה Most High is fearful
a great king over all the earth 

he will subjugate peoples under us
and tribes under our feet

he will choose our inheritance for us
the pride of Jacob whom he loved Selah

God has ascended with a blast of triumph
יהוה with the voice of a shophar

Sing psalms to God sing psalms
sing psalms to our king sing psalms

for God is the king of all the earth
Sing psalms with insight

God reigns over nations
God sits over his holy throne

The princes of the peoples are gathered
the people of the God of Abraham
for the shields of earth belong to God
supremacy ascended

For a fine brief on the Ascension see this post from the OUP Blog.