Praise God in Heaven
For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by the sons of Korah.
1 Oh clap your hands, all you nations.
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!
2 For YHWH Most High is awesome.
He is a great King over all the earth.
3 He subdues nations under us,
and peoples under our feet.
4 He chooses our inheritance for us,
the glory of Jacob whom he loved.
5 God has gone up with a shout,
YHWH with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praise to God, sing praises.
Sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth.
Sing praises with understanding.
8 God reigns over the nations.
God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples are gathered together,
the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God.
He is greatly exalted!
World English Bible
What images come to mind with the phrase "heavenly worship?" Where do you fit in those images?
When we compare Western liturgy (Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant) to Eastern Orthodox liturgy, one element stands out: the East emphasizes the unity of heaven and earth in the praise of God. If we look hard enough, we can find references to that unity in our worship, but its simplified nature makes that connection easy to overlook. We just don't expect to see an angel at our side in prayer at Mass.
This notion of uniting heaven and earth in worship is not new. Indeed, a close reading of Psalm 47 reveals such an assumption. The psalm was a call to Temple worship in song, shouts, and trumpet blasts (47:1, 5) mixed with the image of God seating on his throne in his heavenly court (47:6-8). In the midst of praise and celestial imagery, the psalm proclaimed a short creed for the Israelite: YHWH was the Lord of all nations and he favored his people over any other with his covenant (47:4). The psalm has military overtones: the nations were to be subjects of Israel (47:3) and the commoner among God's people were the equal to the princes of the nations (47:9). In total, this song made a common belief among ancient people: their holy ground and holy ritual paralleled heaven and its worship. For the Israelites, the Temple in Jerusalem was a copy of the heavenly court; their worship joined the praise of the angels.
There is one more notion that can be teased out of this psalm: the sense of God's time. God rising up and seating on this throne echoes the belief in the Day of the Lord, Judgement Day. Many Jews and Christians hold that the Final Judgement will take place in Jerusalem. The Lord will come and sit in judgement over the peoples of the earth. Psalm 47 may not directly refer to the end of days, but the imagery of divine judgement-glory and sense of the eternal moment evoke such a belief.
With this background in mind, we can easily see why Christians have interpreted 47:5 (God mounting his throne) as the Ascension of Christ into heaven. The Ascension was seen as the heavenly coronation.
When we pray either at church or outside, whether with others or alone, we should take a moment and consider our place before the Lord. We praise him with the angels. They are at our side. The Lord sits in glory and judgement over us. The present moment is the eternal moment. Now is the end of days.
That reflection on prayer might seem overpowering, but it serves a purpose. When we pray, we are on God's time, on God's turf, depending on God's favor. Yet, this is not a burden but a joy, for he loves us.
Praise God in heaven!
Take some time this week and prepare for prayer with a exercise of imagination. Place yourself in the presence of the angels. See yourself in the heavenly court before God. Read the book of Revelations for such images. After you pray, reflect on your place before the Lord. Thank him for that place.