We are nine days out from this year’s observance of Ascension Day as this blog appears and that also means we are a full month, thirty-one days, into the forty days between Easter and the Ascension. It is a curious period of time to consider biblically. In theory you would think that the nearly six weeks during which the resurrected Lord Jesus was afoot on this planet would have been one of history’s profoundest periods. Some things happen only once and having the Lord of lords and King of kings who had come back from death walking around Palestine surely clears any and every historical bar to qualify as a unique time. You might also guess, therefore, that the New Testament—the four Gospels mostly—might have a lot to say about those forty days.
But no. They are nearly silent.
Matthew gives us only the Great Commission at some unspecified time after Easter. Luke gives us the Emmaus Road on the day of Easter itself and then Jesus’s brief appearance back in Jerusalem. Mark gives us nothing. Only John ventures a trio of stories: one on the evening of Easter (without Thomas), another story exactly one week later (with “Doubting” Thomas), and then the scene on the beach in John 21.
But that’s it. Jesus is recorded as speaking a grand total of 510 words after the resurrection in the four Gospels (in the NIV translation). That’s not much. The Parable of the Prodigal Son alone has as many words as that (508 in the NIV to be exact). One day we got one parable with 508 words. Across forty whole days the resurrected Jesus is recorded as speaking the same amount.
Why? Did the raised Savior of the world have nothing more to say than this? And keep in mind that among that small pool of words were things like “Bring some of the fish you caught” and “Come and have breakfast.” The Sermon on the Mount this ain’t. We know Jesus appeared to the disciples and others fairly often in that month-and-a-half. We get tantalizing little clues like in Acts 1 with a passing reference to “one night at dinner . . .” or from Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 telling us that one day—of which we have no other record—Jesus appeared to 500 folks at once.
Well, wow. Did he say anything on that occasion?
It’s a biblical oddity that we usually blow past. But maybe what it means—among other things—is that by that point, Jesus had nothing to add to what he had been saying, preaching, teaching for years. Everything we needed for life and for salvation was already out there. Every parable. Every sermon. Every I Am saying. Every tender word of healing. Every revelation about the Father and the Spirit. Every word on sin and repentance. Every rebuke for the religious folks who were altogether too full of themselves and too empty of God. And every gesture, action, look, glance, word, embrace, and smile that revealed the full glory of what it means to be a human being made in the image of God.
What remained between Easter and the Ascension was to remind the disciples of all that. What remained was to prepare the way of the Holy Spirit who would come fifty days after Easter at long last to start connecting all those Gospel dots that for years had mostly just befuddled and eluded the disciples and the crowds and even Jesus’s own family.
To riff on a line credited to Samuel Johnson, we need more often to be reminded than instructed. Many of us have known for a long time the things Jesus taught, the manner of his life, his impatience with exclusion and his penchant for embracing all people, starting with the ones whom this or that religious group had found ways to write off as unworthy.
Or maybe it’s like the prophet Micah. After all the ups and downs of Israel’s history, after more covenant failings than one could count, after all the cruelty and all the law breaking and all the excuses and all the feigned ignorance as to what God desires, Micah comes and just sighs. He puts his hands on his hips, looks Israel square in the eye and declares very simply:
“You folks already know the answer to life’s biggest question. What does God want from you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
In my ecclesiastical neck of the woods in this time of Eastertide, there is palpable anxiety about the upcoming meeting of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Mostly the anxiety swirls around the Human Sexuality Report that is coming to the floor. What will be said? How will it be said? Who might get wounded? Will conversations be loving or livid? Will anyone be able to find a wisdom that unites instead of divides?
In the face of all this—but really at all times—we have more than a good idea of what it takes for the church to look like Jesus. The Bible’s near-silence on the forty days we now call Eastertide can be our cue to go back and read the Gospels all over again. If we are tempted to ask the risen Jesus in these days “Anything new you need us to know?” the answer comes back, “Nope. You don’t need a new lesson. Just a solid review.”
Because he has shown us what’s good. We just have to love it and live it.