Christmas in the church is preceded by Advent. Advent is a time of expectation to be experienced year after year. In what unexpected ways will we see God revealed in the flesh and in created form this year? Do we have the eyes to see? How incredible that God became flesh and dwelled among us. Some have even said that God became man so that man might become like God (Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, Augustine, to name but a few).
Easter in the church is preceded by Lent. Lent is a time of prayerful reflection, and atime of repentance - a time to ponder our journey with Jesus to the cross. Perhaps then, as the apostle Paul says, having died with him we are also raised to new life with him (Romans 6:5, Colossians 2:12).
But who among us knows the preperatory season that precedes Pentecost? (I'll give you a minute. The google search takes .57 seconds and produces 4,090,000 results)
The season is called Eastertide, or just as common simply Easter.
But for most Christians, Easter ends, well, on Easter. The tomb is empty and Jesus is alive! That's fantastic news (maybe the best ever), but it would be tragic for the story to end there. Thank goodness it doesn't.
In the book of Acts is says that, "Jesus appears to [the disciples] over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3b)
Neat. What does that mean to me?
I think it means a couple of things. First of all, the period of 40 days is significant in the bible. Forty is indicative of a time of transformation (numerologists will tell you that the number 5 is for grace and the number 8 signifies new life or creation. So 5x8=40...grace filled new life! Is that for real?!), and is used repeatedly in the scriptures. It cries out to the reader, "Don't miss this! Something supernatural is happening here!"
Second, the teaching of Jesus is about the "kingdom of God," which is significant because according to Mark 1:15, this is how Jesus inaugurates his ministry. The end of the book of Acts lays out for us the final scene of Paul's life (Paul wrote many of the New Testament letters) saying, "For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ - with all boldness and without hinderance." (Acts 28:30-31)
So God becomes flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus begins his ministry speaking about the availability of God's kingdom right here and now in the present (one time he says, "the kingdom is within you"). Jesus dies and is raised from the dead. He teaches his disciples about the very ministry he was about - the kingdom of God. And at the conclusion of the life of the apostle Paul, we find he too, spoke boldly about the kingdom of God.
So what is this kingdom?
Well, that would be a long post. Let me suggest while the explanation could be verbose, the principle is simple. Jesus rose from the dead, took a couple days to hang out with the disciples so they knew he was really him. Then he taught them for 40 days and ascended into heaven. They looked around confused, held an official church meeting to replace the vacancy in leadership left by Judas (how that didn't take them two years to decide, I'll never know!), and if we add all that up...let's say it was about 50 days.
Woah, that would mean they would be gathering again just in time for Shavuot!
Don't tell me you don't know what Shavuot is. (I just googled it too.)
Shavuot is the Jewish celebration of weeks, originally laid out to coincide with the first grain harvest, but later tied to the giving of the Torah (or law) on Mount Sinai 7 weeks after the exodus from Egypt.
Wait, so people were released from their slavery and captivity and then 50 days later they were given the law? So are you telling me Jesus released me from sin and death (Easter/resurrection), and is now telling me what to do by slamming down some stone tablets? That sounds like a buzz kill.
Nope. That wouldn't make sense. Then we'd all end up in the same cycle over and over again. Instead, God promises that in these days, there will be a new law. Jeremiah prophesies it like this,
"The days are coming," declares the Lord,
"when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord.
"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the Lord.
"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people." (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
Oh, I should add this:
"For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (v. 34b)
Land the plane, Dave.
Okay, okay. Shavuot is about the Israelites getting the law given by God which is a moment of grace. Thank you God for teaching us how to live.
But we couldn't do it. Try as we might, we would inevitably fail.
God doesn't leave us this way though. No way. Not in the new covenant. God promises that this new law won't be written on stone (or hard hearts), but rather it will be found in our minds and on our soft new hearts.
God will not just dwell in flesh individually in Jesus. God will now send the Holy Spirit to dwell in each and every one of us. And God's Spirit will guide our every decision if we ask. God's Spirit will comfort our every pain if we allow it. God's Spirit will lead us into the great adventure of kingdom living, if we yield to the Spirit's voice and guidance.
And when we do, that's what we call the "kingdom of God." It sounds eerily like the divine became flesh once, so that all the rest of us might become filled with the divine.
Are you ready? This is a little late. You only have 16 more days to prepare.
Pentecost is coming, May 31.
Grace and peace.