Dear friends in Christ,
Have you ever notice that when someone is telling a story-based joke, you just have a feeling that on the third time through, something funny is about to happen?
Jokes are one example of using repetition and augmentation to build suspense and dramatic effect. When someone starts telling a joke, they are telling you a story, describing something that happened. Then the same thing in the joke happens again, and you start to get the idea of what situation to expect. But then the third time through, something unexpected happens in the story…hopefully something that is also funny. I find myself calling this “augmentation,” although I am sure there is probably an official word for it somewhere, given by those who study and analyze humor as a cultural phenomenon. After a while you start to expect the punch line on the third time through, but if it’s a good joke you haven’t heard before, its content will still surprise you.
Repetition and augmentation are used in the Bible as well. The clearest example is the story of Jesus rising from the dead on the third day. But there are others. The gospel of John sets up the story of Jesus as fitting within the story of creation. When John tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection, he makes sure we know it happened on the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath. Any person familiar with Genesis would know to expect six days of creation and one day of rest, a total of seven days that make up the week. But John follows it up with the unexpected eighth day when, like the FIRST day, a completely new creation begins, this time through the resurrection. You might have thought you knew what to expect, but God says, surprise!
Have I lost you already? Hopefully not!
The Day of Pentecost follows a similar pattern. The season of Easter is sometimes called a “week of weeks”–seven days times seven weeks for a total of 49 days when we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. In those days, “seven times seven” meant “a whole bunch,” kind of like “forty days and forty nights” meant “a really long time.” But then Pentecost comes on the fiftieth day, and suddenly everything is changed AGAIN. The Holy Spirit comes down on the believers that are gathered in Jerusalem, and suddenly they are all speaking the languages of the Jewish diaspora, all over the Roman Empire, sharing the good news of Jesus. Something totally unprecedented has happened, and the world will never be the same.
God has a pattern of acting outside our frameworks of thought (three times through, seven days in a week, “seven times seven”) to do something new, begin a new creation, open a new chapter of the story. Whenever you see numbers highlighted in Scripture, pay attention to what they mean. Often they are more than just numbers! Sometimes they are describing the established framework that God is breaking or expanding or transforming by doing a new thing.
Together in Christ,
Pastor Katie Yahns