25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!
The days after Easter can feel like the first anticlimactic hours following a big party. The helium escapes from the balloons as they hang noticeably lower in the room. The guests that haven’t already gone home are milling about, maybe still deep in conversation, maybe hoping for the room to get a second wind. At least, that’s how it sometimes feels in the church now.
But for those who followed Jesus through the first Easter, there was nothing anticlimactic about the days after Christ’s resurrection. For forty days Jesus appeared to his disciples again, and again, and again, doing the things Jesus had always done: teaching, eating, proclaiming the kingdom. Then after forty days, the resurrected Christ is glorified yet again as he is lifted up into heaven and becomes our ascended Lord, whose fullness fills all in all, as the Scriptures say (Acts 1:9; Ephesians 1:23). Today, Sunday, May 17, we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord.
If we read Psalm 22 as words spoken by Jesus, we find in these thirty-one verses not only the narrative of the passion, but also of the resurrection, and the ascension, and a preview of the chapters still being written. In this psalm we meet Jesus, whose ministry did not end at the cross or the empty tomb.
The great circle of praise rippling out from the empty tomb into all the world finds its epicenter in Jesus. He says, “From you comes my praise…” As one who plans, leads, and participates in worship, it is so easy to imagine worship as something we do. And, of course, part of worship is our service to God–our offerings of time, words, resources, lives, and praise. However, praise of the Father is first something Jesus does. Our worship is done only as we worship in Jesus and Jesus in us. So worship is less about our doing, and more about our being in Jesus, and letting his Spirit unite us with him in praise of the Father.
Jesus’ ministry is praise and service. Jesus says he will make good on his vows before those who fear the Lord. What vows? “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord.” You don’t have to watch Jesus long to learn that Jesus is one who keeps his promises. In addition to these we encounter in the Psalm, we remember other vows he made to his disciples before his passion: that he would send the Spirit who will teach them and guide them (John 14:26); that he will prepare a place for them (John 14:2); and that he would be with them always (Matthew 28:20). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews, reflects of Jesus’ eternal and heavenly ministry of interceding on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25) The ministry of the risen Christ is ongoing and eternal.
In the Apostles’ Creed, we say we believe Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God. The ascension of Jesus poses a problem for some. Maybe because ascension looks like absence. We thought God-with-us meant God-always-with-us-in-the-same-way. Or the image of Jesus seated at the right had of God seems inconsistent with the Jesus we had gotten to know in the Gospels, Jesus whose movements could neither be contained nor restricted. He was completely free, and now appears limited.
In an Ascension Sunday sermon, preacher Richard A. Lischer calls Martin Luther to his aid, who boldly said, “The right hand of God is everywhere.” And centuries later, another German theologian and preacher, Karl Barth, would say “Everywhere means that the object of our hope [i.e., Jesus] is not always receding into the murky past (as all things strictly historical must) but is waiting to meet up with our confessions of faith and to confirm them in ordinary experience.”[i]
Like the disciples whom Jesus visited again, and again, and again, we are free to look for Jesus everywhere. And to expect that he will meet us anywhere, anytime. As Lischer says, “Jesus had to leave one place so he could be everywhere in heaven and on earth.”[ii]
Each Sunday, the pastor stands at the edge of the chancel, arms raised and gives a benediction, a good word from God. I typically listen with my arms lifted and hands open to receive that gift. Verse 26 of this psalm ends with a benediction from Jesus: “May your hearts live forever!” How do you receive this good word? This isn’t a simple bit of well-wishing on a heavenly greeting card. Jesus is inviting us into the eternal heart of the Triune God.
Read these two verses again. Hear them as Christ’s words to you, to us.
How does it change your view of worship to imagine yourself worshipping the Father in Christ, and Christ in you?
How does it make you feel to know Jesus is still and eternally “for us”?
Which of Jesus’ vows do you need to remember most today? Trust his faithfulness.
Let the Spirit of Christ lead you in praise in the midst of the great congregation. Be filled with the fullness of our Ascended Lord who makes good on his promises, and who invites our hearts to ascend with his and live forever!
[i] Richard A. Lischer, “A Sermon: God Has Gone Up with a Shout!”, Exploring and Proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 176.
[ii] Ibid., 176.