What Sort of 40 Days?

Many years ago I was told by a well-meaning Sunday school teacher that “forty days” in the Bible did not actually mean a count of forty days but just “a long time” and although I am not convinced that her biblical interpretation was accurate, I think we can all now bear witness to the truth that forty days – just short of six weeks, is a long time.

Biblical events that lasted forty days are not in general good news – the rain that caused the flood that drove Noah into the ark; the time that Moses spent on the mountain covered by the glory of the Lord like a devouring fire; Elijah’s escape from the vengeance of King Ahab, and the forty days with which we are more familiar – the days that Jesus spent in the wilderness.  All of these are times of separation, desolation, fear and unknowing, and that may well be our experience of these forty days of lockdown and social isolation.  When will it end? how will it end? God is present through this time, but mostly we should be happy to be somewhere else.

But from this rather doom-laden list there is a forty days that is missing – have you noticed?  that is the forty days from Easter Sunday to the Ascension, often  hidden or overlooked in the fifty days from Easter to Pentecost.   Ascension Day – I have to own up to it being my favourite festival of the Christian year, it is the resolution of incarnation, the joyful fulfilment of the promise of salvation, and on a very personal note, the final four verses of Luke’s gospel were ones I learned by heart and spoke in a church service at the age of nine, the first time I ever opened my mouth alone in an act of worship in a church.  Ascension – amazing, affirming of our humanity, awesome.

In those forty days between Resurrection and Ascension Jesus teaches his disciples everything they need to know to do the work that he will leave for them; he teaches them about being forgiven and forgiving, about presence and absence, about loss and fullness, about waiting trustfully and patiently. 
So the question today is – what sort of forty days are you going through?  If it feels overwhelming and scary then read and re-read John chapters 20 and 21 and the first 14 verses of the Acts of the Apostles.  Perhaps it will help us to be prepared today and every day to be “changed from glory into glory” and to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Revd Rita Ball

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