40 Days After Easter

We are in the Easter Season.

It always struck me as a strange quirk of our modern society that we have such a hard time keeping track of the liturgical seasons. All throughout Advent, people say that we are in the Christmas season. And then once we enter the actual Christmas season, all displays of Christmas vanish as we focus on New Year’s and Valentine’s. This is partly a result of business trying to influence our shopping patterns, but we can also see the same thing occur with Easter.

We spent 40 days of Lent preparing our hearts for the greatest day of the liturgical year. But as soon as Easter is over, all of that joy and anticipation subsides. This is a problem because we have to remember something important:

There are another 40 days after Easter.

The Bible tells us that after the Resurrection, Christ spent 40 days with His disciples before he Ascended into heaven. The number 40 is an important one throughout the Bible. “40” represents a complete amount. It rained for 40 days and nights for Noah to describe the complete amount of time it would take to flood the earth. The Hebrews wandered for 40 years in the desert for the complete amount of time it would take for the wicked generation to die out. King David reigned for 40 years, showing how God gave Him a complete reign and did not cut it short despite his sins. And Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, representing the complete amount of time He needed to prepare for His mission.

As a side note, it is important to remember that just because we say something is symbolic, it does not stop it from also being literal. Things can be literal and symbolic at the same time. The Eucharist is the ultimate example of this, where it is what we call an “efficacious sign.” This means that it brings about that which it signifies. I only bring up this point because sometimes Catholics become a bit trepidation when told that things like the 40 days and night of Noah have a symbolic meaning. Too often Bible scholars try to demythologize the Word of God and reduce it all to mere symbolism. But the Bible is profoundly a book to be reduced in this way. The point is that I am not trying to say in this article that these “40’s” are only symbolic and not a literal count of time.

Returning to the Easter story, we Jesus slowly reveal His presence to the disciples in the Gospel of John. The Gospel reading from this past Sunday tells the story of Mary Magdalene informing Peter and John about the empty tomb. The two Apostles run to the tomb and find it empty along with the burial clothes. When John sees this, he believes. Why did Jesus arrange things to happen this way instead of boldly manifesting His glory to them right away. Because He is trying to teach us the first lesson of the Easter season:

Easter is an invitation to faith.

None of the four Gospels describe the actual moment of Resurrection. In all of them, the disciples find the tomb empty. At this evidence, they have a choice: believe or doubt. As I wrote last week, it is not as black and white as this, but they have the opportunity to believe before they see Him. This is the opportunity that Thomas is given.

After Christ appears to the 10, Thomas refuses to believe until he sees. Jesus was actually giving Thomas a great gift in giving Him an opportunity to believe. Once Thomas sees Christ, He has no room for doubt. He no longer works off of just faith. He now has knowledge of the Risen Lord in a way that we don’t. And this knowledge will compel Him to leave the land of his birth and walk all the way to India where he will be martyred. Jesus famously says to him, ““Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29)

Why does Jesus call us, who haven’t seen Him, more blessed than Thomas, who has seen Him? Because we must rely on faith and not our sight. In a sense, our faith must be stronger because we do not have the benefit of Thomas’s experience. So how do we strengthen this faith? There are many ways, but one of them coincides with a second lesson of the Easter season:

Time with Christ.

As Christians, we should always spend time with our Lord. During the Lenten season, we imitate Christ’s preparation in the desert. In a sense we entered spiritual boot camp. But the Easter season is a bit different in tone.

We have very few stories during the 40 days after Easter. We have the above-mentioned appearances, the story of the road to Emmaus, Jesus having breakfast with the Apostles after they spent all night fishing, and that is about it. So what was Jesus doing with them the rest of the time. I do not know for sure, but let me hazard a speculation.

A student once asked me how anyone could know what Jesus prayed during the Agony in the Garden if all of the Apostles were asleep. I said, “Jesus told them.”

“When,” responded the student, “they arrested Him immediately and killed Him the next day.”

“And,” I returned, “He rose again. What do you think He was doing during those 40 days before He Ascended?”

It says that He taught them. I like to think of this less like His teaching during His public ministry, but more like the quiet intimacy of friends. The disciples simply were able to spend time with Him, absorbing His presence the way sunbathers absorb sunlight.

I like to think of this time as the honeymoon of Christ and His bride the Church. How many of us who are married remember the hustle and bustle of life before the wedding? There is great strain and preparation. And then the day of the wedding comes and there is great joy (even if there is still some stress). But then comes the honeymoon. My wife and I chose to go to a place for 10 days where there was very little to do but relax and enjoy each other’s company.

I like to imagine the 40 days after Easter as this time where Christ and His disciples could simply enjoy each other’s company.

And for us, we just came through the great strain and preparation of Lent. Then we experienced the great day of joy in Easter.

And now, let us enjoy simply spending time with the Lord in these 40 days after Easter.

Copyright 2020, WL Grayson

*image used: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Rafael (Public Domain) {{PD-US}}

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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