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Forty Great Days

Forty Great Days

Wed 26 April 2017

The period between Easter Sunday and the Ascension Day is traditionally referred to as the great 40 days. During this period the risen Christ appeared on numerous occasions to his followers. Ten days after Christ’s ascension the disciples and friends were gathered for the celebration of the Jewish harvest festival 50 days after the Passover (Pentecost meaning 50). At this time the gift of the Holy Spirit became a living reality for the fledging church.

The earliest recorded appearances of the risen Christ occur in altogether ordinary circumstances; you could easily miss the moment if you didn’t have your wits about you, or more importantly, if you had not been moved by the Spirit to recognise the visitation of God. Two of my favourite appearances come immediately to mind. First, Jesus cooking fish on the beach as recorded in John’s Gospel. His disciples eventually come ashore and are struck dumb, unable to believe their eyes. Jesus says ‘come and have breakfast’. No fanfare, no glitz; not in the big city Jerusalem but down by the lake where no one will notice. The other appearance that I have an abiding love for is the Emmaus Road. Two dejected disciples trudging home; downcast and in grief because they had pinned their hopes on Jesus to deliver them and he had been crucified. A stranger comes alongside,  engages them in conversation and is invited to stay. As the bread is broken at evening meal, the guest vanishes. In that same moment the scales fall from their inner eyes and they now see with Easter eyes. Their hearts had been ‘strangely warmed’ (as John Wesley might have stated), or more accurately their ‘hearts had burned within them’.

I imagine there were numerous other appearances of the risen Christ. Only a few have been recorded. Perhaps some have been missed altogether. Of course it is so easy to miss God’s appearing. The reason is simple; we are dealing with the God of surprises. The great forty days are considered great not because they received top media coverage, or because something spectacular occurred in the public space, or because the manner of God’s appearing was outrageous and demanded recognition. Rather the forty days are great because the same God who came to a stable among smelly animals and the subclass of society (shepherds), appeared again at the beach for a morning breakfast and on a road with some weary travellers. The days are great because they revealed one who did not cling to equality with God but humbled himself and pitched his tent within the ordinary things that bind human beings together: conversation, food, homes, outdoor gatherings; as well as the disappointments, griefs and suffering of life. The great forty days are great because it was a time when heaven erupted in the ordinary.

The time between Easter and Ascension is a time to see the world through Easter eyes; to join with the risen Christ for the common good; to work for the well being of others and the life of the planet. We will need more than forty great days for this post Easter journey. On this journey God will continually take us by surprise. This is why gratitude and thankfulness are the bedrock for Christian discipleship.

Bishop Stephen Pickard
Executive Director
Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture

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