We’re now a little way into the forty days between Easter and Ascension, and so I turn to a question that has puzzled me for a while.
What happened in that time between? What was it like?
From the glimpses we’re given in the Scriptures, it seems rather different from the pre-Easter life. For a start, Jesus was here sometimes, then He’d be gone. His presence seems to be a series of Appearances, not an ongoing thing like before.
It’s difficult to imagine the post-Resurrection Jesus falling asleep in the bottom of Andrew’s fishing boat, or teaching in the Temple courts, or laughing at Peter’s jokes.
It’s difficult to imagine Peter making jokes. In the time between, things are a lot more serious and weighty.
But my questions boil down to two, really. Number 1: what was Jesus doing when He wasn’t appearing to His disciples? And number 2: what was Jesus doing when He was appearing to His disciples?
The first one is a lot more difficult to answer, but the second one we are given a few clues about.
The Scripture says that He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and “gave many convincing proofs that He was alive”. Including, no doubt, spending several days at a time with them, so that they would lie down to sleep with Jesus among them, and wake to find Him still there. Including eating with them, walking with them in the clear light of day, interacting with people outside the immediate group. Including actually using the door, even though He’d proven He no longer needed it.
But then He’d be gone for a bit, and appear somewhere else. Just like CS Lewis’ Narnian Christophany Aslan, He’s not a tame Lion. Not someone who comes and goes as you please.
Secondly, based on what He did with the two on the road to Emmaus, I imagine He was taking them through the Scriptures, opening their minds and eyes to see all the passages that were talking about Himself. Giving them understanding of who Messiah really is and what He is about.
Thirdly, He’s preparing them for when the Holy Spirit comes. Instructing them not to go off in their own strength to try and start inaugurating God’s Grand Master Plan that they suddenly, finally comprehend, but to wait for the One who was coming after Him, Who would give them power.
Which leads me to my first question. What is He doing in those times when He isn’t appearing to His disciples?
Perhaps He’s beginning to prepare them for the time when He won’t be with them bodily. He knows that time is coming soon; five short weeks and most of a sixth, then they will see Him no more. They are going to have to operate without His physical presence.
Or perhaps He’s showing them that the Crucifixion was not something they had imagined. If He were back permanently, I can imagine that after a week or so, you’d start to wonder if He’d really died, or if He’d just swooned. It’d be like His death was a sort of illness (“I’m better now”), rather than an enemy that He had gloriously conquered.
No, death is still death, but it’s not the end you thought it was. I’m not back like Lazarus was, only to die again. I’m back in a different way, victor over death rather than snatched from its grip. And so I won’t be here in quite the same way.
In short, another of the “convincing proofs” that He is alive.
I don’t know that this is so, of course. I’m speculating. But it seems reasonable speculation.