Forty Days Later

It has been 40 days since we celebrated Easter. Forty days since we took comfort in the truth that death does not have the last word. Forty days since we gathered on the front lawn of BMPC, or around our computers at home, to proclaim the truth that Christ is risen! Today, 40 days later, we add two words to that proclamation: Christ is risen, and ascended!

These additional words come from the opening verses of the book of Acts. “After his suffering [Jesus] presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God... When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:4, 9)

Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascends up toward heaven while his disciples stand gazing. He has just finished promising them that they will soon receive the Holy Spirit and be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” Now he ascends, and they are left to carry out this mission.

The physical space between Jesus and us grows, but so does the blessing. Jan Richardson calls it a mystery, “as if the shape of [the blessing] depends on absence, as if it finds its form not by what it can cling to but by the space that arcs between us.” Jesus ascends, and the blessing grows.

How does the blessing grow? It grows through Christ’s work in each of us. Throughout the Bible the number 40 is symbolic for a time or season of preparation. For 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert; Jesus was tempted for 40 days in the wilderness; Jesus remained on earth 40 days after his resurrection. In the Church, the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is 40 days, minus Sundays. Like our spiritual ancestors, we are to spend 40 days in preparation so that we might be faithful in the days that follow.

Today Christ ascends, our preparation ends, and we are called to refocus our gaze. As soon as Christ ascended two men appeared in white robes questioning why the disciples are still looking up toward heaven (Acts 1:10-11). The disciples have been prepared, now they must carry out what they have learned.

As we live into this post-Ascension season may we remember what we learned in Lent and Easter. May our gaze be refocused on the work before us, which is where the blessing is to be found.

I will leave you with the full poem by Jan Richardson, “Blessing the Distance,” from her book, Circle of Grace:

It is a mystery to me
how as the distance
between us grows,
the larger this blessing
becomes,

as if the shape of it
depends on absence,
as if it finds its form
not by what
it can cling to
but by the space
that arcs
between us.

As this blessing
makes its way,
first it will cease
to measure itself
by time.

Then it will release
how attached it has become
to this place
where we have lived,
where we have learned
to know one another
in proximity and
presence.

Next this blessing
will abandon
the patterns
in which it moved,
the habits that helped it
recognize itself,
the familiar pathways
it traced.

Finally this blessing
will touch its fingers
to your brow,
your eyes,
your mouth;
it will hold
your beloved face
in both its hands,

and then
it will let you go;
it will loose you
into your life;
it will leave
each hindering thing

until all that breathes
between us
is blessing
and all that beats
between us
is grace.