On this Ascension Sunday, we are called to rejoice with all the company of earth and heaven in the gift of our risen Lord. Christ has ascended. Alleluia! We are not left powerless; we are promised the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Though Psalm 47 long predates Jesus’ life and ministry, this psalm’s instruction is apt for this moment: “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy” (niv).
In my home church, many are ambivalent about clapping during a worship service. We understand worship as a sacred performance and our intention is to worship God—not to applaud certain performers like the choir, the pianist, or a child offering a litany. Yet here in Psalm 47, the psalmist invites us to go deeper, calling the congregation gathered to clap and cry out with joy to God. The psalmist also invites the body to wholeheartedly join the spirit in praise.
In our individual lives of prayer and in our prayers as a community we are called to inhabit our praise. If we are cautious about embodied expression, we can bring our bodies to worship in gentler ways. During a pastoral prayer, we might open our hands on our laps, hold the hand of a spouse, friend, or child, or even raise our hands in the silence. We may feel led to get up from our pew or chair to kneel in adoration and contrition during Communion. We might clap to the rhythms of a song of praise (even if we don’t want to be first).
In my own journey, I clap my hands most often because when I feel joy, my words fail to convey the overwhelming gladness welling up in me. I am most free to embody my joy when I am driving and there is no traffic. I find myself singing to God with all of my heart and waving my right hand in praise. Remembering my first love, I long to convey that joy beyond words.
Holy Spirit, as Pentecost nears I am filled with anticipation and thanksgiving. So may I praise you with heart, mind, spirit, and body. Amen.
Though Jesus has taught his disciples that God’s kingdom is not an earthly one, following the Resurrection some are still expecting him to set up a kingdom on earth. Instead, Jesus ascends into heaven in front of them, being taken up in the clouds. The scene recalls Psalm 68, where the Lord is described as one who rides on the clouds across the expanse of the heavens. In the Gospel reading, Jesus anticipates his coming departure and prays for his followers. Peter talks about a trial—literally a “fiery ordeal”—that is testing Christians. The reference to fire may be specific, for the Roman historian Tacitus records that Nero killed Christians in Rome by burning them alive. The author may therefore be speaking about suffering that is not just metaphorical.
Read Acts 1:6-14. When have you experienced the power of community?
Read Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35. Recall a time when you recognized God’s power with fear and joy. How might that have been a foretaste of God’s kingdom?
Read 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11. How have you walked with faith through suffering?
Read John 17:1-11. What does it mean for you or your congregation that Jesus prayed for unity among his followers?
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