Tuesday in staff meeting, I realized, “we’re about halfway through Eastertide” (the 50 days after Easter and before Pentecost).
But the Ascension occurred 40 days after Easter, so I wondered, “is there a designation for that 10 day period after Ascension and before Pentecost?” With some searching, I learned that in the Catholic Church, they call that interlude the days of preparation for Pentecost. (I wonder, “how does one prepare to receive a gift of the Spirit?”)
I heard once that if Christians really observe their calendar of holy days, there are two periods when we should feel bereft: first, from Good Friday to Easter dawn, and second, from Ascension to Pentecost. In both periods, left to ourselves, we experience what it is like to live without God accompanying us. Sort of like a boat out of water…
I laughed at myself for this stream of reflection. In my twenties, I hesitated going to seminary for fear of becoming someone who talked, acted or thought like a pastor. “Surely,” I recognized on Tuesday, “these are thoughts only a pastor would have.”
But time doesn’t just pass, beloved. It is also our possibility. How we structure life that otherwise often feels chaotic and random. Where we can make commitments in order to habituate ourselves to new ways of understanding and being. Or perhaps better: where we can make commitments to let God work on us.
…Maybe God has more purpose in the passing of these days and seasons and years than making me fear I’ve lost the battle of resisting parochialism! Or leaving me defeated before my other battles…
After all, Jesus’ disciples were given forty days with the resurrected Christ. To recognize him. To eat with him. To hear his voice. To learn now what he’d already said to them in his mortal life, but what they somehow had not “gotten.”
Truly, they had a big new reality to swallow as well: that after death, Jesus was again here and now, flesh and body and soul… still with them, right beside them. They had to assimilate the details of resurrection. Not only Jesus’ resurrection, but what resurrection meant for their lives. Not just a promise of life after death, but of a different kind of life to live before death.
Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message — the popular translation of the Bible in a fresh, modern idiom that makes old, old stories pop as new — has pointed out that forty days were a support in the service of the first disciples’ witness. Because hallucinations and dreams don’t last that long, and aren’t shared in community. Even religious hysteria– it’d be difficult to maintain for forty days.
But maybe this time period is more than just proof of the resurrection. Perhaps, it says something about humans needing to keep at something for awhile in order to assimilate it, to rehabituate themselves, or to be transformed.
I’m not sure how long that period is. Perhaps there are psychological studies that can tell us. I remember hearing once that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert. Perhaps the time required to change depends on how difficult what we are trying to master.
But the Bible uses 40 days over and over again. That probably isn’t just a coincidence.
I’m not sure it’s God’s promise that in forty days your most difficult challenge or struggle or weakness can be overcome and behind you. More likely, it’s a “do-able” reflection of the 40 years God dedicated to turning slaves into a people by “leading them around lost in the wilderness” (there’s a lot of irony in all that, huh?).
If forty days could ground the first disciples in resurrection as a way of life to be lived for real in their homes and on the streets, with families and with neighbors, could forty days work to begin making the changes we need in our lives?
Some might think I’m stealing an idea from Rick Warren’s “Forty Days of Purpose.” But I’m not presuming your interests in change are necessarily spiritual. Perhaps you want or need something altogether different.
I’m suggesting, however, that you might give yourself a forty day trial period, to see how far you get in making your change. Not so long as to be insurmountable and long enough to make a difference.
What I’m saying, church, is:
Why wait any longer?
Is the time going to get better?
Will the days needed get any shorter?
Will the goal get any closer by putting off getting started right now?
If you want a change in your life, try a forty day commitment, and let me know how it works…
See you in church,