by Linda McMillan
For the past few weeks I’ve been taking a small bag of chocolate Easter eggs to work and hiding one on each of my colleague’s desks. I like for them to know that there are other ways of being a Christian than what they may see in Chinese churches. I wasn’t sure I was getting through until last week when one of them saw me hiding my eggs and asked, “Is it still Easter?” We take the small victories.
Christians call this time The Great Fifty because there are fifty days in the Easter season. In most countries, though, it’s not called Easter at all. It’s called Pascha, which means Passover.
Here is something else you might not know: Passover lasts fifty days too. Well, actually, the time just after the first night of Passover lasts fifty days. It ends with the festival of Shavuot, or giving of the Torah.
The way Passover and Shavuot are observed has changed a lot over the years. The thing that hasn’t changed is that there are still 50 days between them, kind of like the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost.
It almost seems like we’re all on the same page, doesn’t it? Except that we’re not. There is a fundamental difference. Christians have their time of preparation before Easter, which is thought to have been during Passover; Jews have theirs between Passover and Shavuot.
Lent is a time of preparation for Christians. We all did our Lenten disciplines, whatever they were. Remember the soup suppers, the book studies… everybody did something. We prepared for Easter and Easter happened, didn’t it? We were ready.
We are now 27 days into our Great Fifty. An event at least as powerful as Easter is coming, and I am not sure we’re ready. You see, any kind of Pentecost without being deeply rooted in the Judaism of Jesus — that is Passover and the time of preparation — is just an invention for the sake of the calendar.
I’m going to tell you what the Jews do, because we can learn from them on this. They get ready for Passover with a short time of preparation. Then they have their celebration. Then they count every single day of the time between Passover and Shavuot. It’s called Counting The Omer. Today is the first day of The Omer. Like us, Jewish people do different things as well, but the primary thing they do is count every single day, because getting ready to receive Torah is such an awesome task that not a single day can be wasted. Is getting ready to receive the Holy Spirit any less significant?
In the lectionary reading this morning we see that as the Jesus Mission expanded geographically, it expanded in scope too. Peter had wandered far from Jerusalem and the comforting things which had formed his faith for many years. In fact, it was the very things which had formed him which kept him from realizing the expanding nature of the mission. But the full revelation didn’t come to Peter in the midst of his practices and on his home turf. It came while he was staying in the house of an unclean tanner far from home.
There is a numerical connection
between the Hebrew words for desert and the Hebrew word for speak. The desert can be thought of as wilderness, or an unknown area. In the connection between those words we might see that when we dare to venture far from home, to take on a new practice like counting The Omer
, we are more likely to hear the voice of God, we might get a new vision of what the Christ Mission means for us and how to proceed. In fact, it might even be a sort of preparation.
Tomorrow is day 28 of our Great Fifty. We have 22 more days to prepare for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The time is short! How will you prepare? Is celebration part of your preparation? What kinds of things can you do this week that will prepare your heart and mind for a fresh experience of the Holy? Can you take on something new, brand new? What practice is outside your comfort zone? Go there. See what happens.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai.
*more on counting Omer here