Fifty Days Later

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By Judith Sutera, OSB

Do you know anyone who still has their Easter decorations up in their home? Unless it’s someone who is particularly busy or tired, the answer may be no. In the monastery, though, our chapel is still festively decorated with a special baptismal water font, flowers and a large wreath festively decorated with pastel ribbons.

Many other churches are still decorated with Easter lilies, banners and resurrection themed art as ours is. The reason is that, although the world considers most holidays to be over by the evening of that day, the liturgical season of Easter lasts for fifty days.

According to the Bible, Jesus remained on earth for forty days after his resurrection, appearing to many people. Then he disappeared as quickly as he had come, but he promised his followers that he would send the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of God that would be present with them and inspire them.

It would seem, then, that the Easter season would last for forty days and then things would get back to normal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. It is no surprise that these appearances by Jesus, and the stir they caused, led to chaos among believers and non-believers, the Jewish community and the Roman authorities.

It is understandable that when Jesus departed once again, his disciples were in something of a panic. They had a story they needed to tell but they were also afraid that something unpleasant would happen to them if they tried to tell it. And once again they were without their leader.

This is where that extra ten days comes into the story. The Jews celebrated a feast called “Pentecost” or “The Feast of Weeks” fifty days after Passover. “Pente” is the Greek root for the word “five” (as in the Pentagon being a five-sided building).

Because the feast involved symbolically renewing the covenant between God and humanity, it was a time when many religious pilgrims came from other places to Jerusalem. What better time and place for God to add something new to that covenant promise of being with the faithful?

The gospel tells us that the apostles were holed up in a room trying to avoid persecution and to make sense of everything that had happened. Imagine what this little band had been through in just fifty days!

Just when they thought things probably couldn’t get much stranger, there was a mighty rush of wind and flame and they felt like they could tell their story bravely to the world. The Easter season ends not with the quiet disappearance of Jesus but with a whole new way of experiencing God’s presence. It is said that all these travelers to Jerusalem could hear the good news in their own language. Indeed, the language of God’s Spirit is love, a love that all people can experience and understand.

There is a special hymn that is chanted on Pentecost that calls upon the Holy Spirit to come in might to us again. As we leave the Easter season and return to ordinary time, we long for the strength that the apostles felt on the first Pentecost.

One part of the hymn asks the Spirit to use the power to heal in some pretty dramatic ways:

Cleanse that which is soiled / water that which is dry / heal that which is wounded. / Bend that which is rigid / heat that which is chilled / straighten that which has become crooked.

This is a pretty tall order and we recognize, as the apostles did, that we can’t do these things by ourselves. But in the power of the Spirit of God, amazing things are possible.