Psalm for the Ascension of the Lord (B)

Psalm 47: 2-3, 6-7, 8-9

This week’s responsorial psalm comes from Psalm 47, a hymn that describes an enthronement ceremony and stirs the people to praise God.

All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness,

The passage begins with a call to praise God with both a ringing cry and with clapping of hands. The cry (rinnâ) is a shout of jubilation connected with a divinely appointed sacrifice. Clapping hands is also a common ritual action. One of the derivatives of the Hebrew word for clap (tāqa‘) is “trumpet,” leading some commentators to believe that the liturgical clapping of hands is a substitute for the blowing of the trumpet. These two words clearly situate the psalm in a cultic setting.

for the LORD, the Most High, the awesome, 

“LORD” (YHWH) is the personal name of the God of Israel; “Most High” (‘elyôn) the name given by ancient Semite peoples to the principal god in their pantheons. In scripture, elyôn first appears in the Abraham/Melchizedek narrative (Genesis 14:18-22); there, the term is used to indicate that the God of Israel is above any other “god” or power envisaged by man.

is the great king over all the earth.

Having extolled the superiority of YHWH, the psalmist proclaims that he is “the great King.” This is the same title given the king of Assyria (see 2 Kings 18;19) and connotes the sense of king as emperor, except that his domain is all the earth.

In a world that believed each nation had its own divine patron, this was either a claim of the preeminence of YHWH over all other gods or an assertion of monotheistic faith. In either case, all people are called to acclaim the kingship of God.

God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts. Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise.

Even as king over all the earth, God has chosen Israel. He allowed the ark (“his throne”) to be brought to Jerusalem and placed in the temple in the times of David and Solomon (2 Samuel 6:14-15; 15:24-29; 1 Kings 8:1-13).

It is in the temple that God mounts his throne, causing his glory to be present among the people, who respond with shouts of joy, trumpet blasts, and songs of praise.

In the apostolic age, the Church saw the words of this verse as being fulfilled in the Ascension of Christ into heaven, which is why we use it in the liturgy for today’s feast, professing our faith in Christ as king of all the universe.

For king of all the earth is God; sing hymns of praise. God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne.

The notion of the kingship of the LORD has cosmic and mythological underpinnings. The ancients believed that before creation, the forces of good were in mortal combat with the forces of evil. A great cosmic battle ensued from which good emerged triumphant. The divine leader of this victorious company assumed the role of creator and reordered the cosmos. When this was completed, a heavenly palace was constructed for this great god, who then ascended the throne, there to rule over the entire universe maintaining the order that had been established.

When Melchizedek blessed Abraham in Genesis 14, he references the God Most High as “the creator of heaven and earth.” When this title was applied to the God of Israel, all of the attributes associated with that name were appropriated as well. Therefore, when the kingship of God was commemorated, even though the primary focus of attention was on God’s national or political significance, this cosmic dimension would be in the consciousness of the people. In their minds, their God was not only king over all the earth and the people that dwelt there but was also king over all the powers of heaven.

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