f in music means forte, “strong.” Generally the loudest dynamic marking one will see is ff, fortissimo, “very strong.” Occasionally, when a composer wants something incredibly loud and dramatic, he or she will indicate fff, “very, very strong!” Nothing is held back; the instrument is stretched to the very limit of what it is intended to do. As a church this time of year, the Easter Sunday shouts of “Alleluia, Alleluia! ALLELUIA!” still resound in our ears. The subdued tones of Holy Week and the contemplation of Christ crucified burst forth into the loudest songs, the highest praise. And well it should. Christ’s resurrection is the Divine affirmation of all that Jesus has accomplished as our Redeemer, the very fulfillment of so many Old Testament types and promises.
At the same time, Easter Sunday strikes a chord that sustains, and if anything, continues to crescendo to fff or even ffff, if that’s even possible! The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the first of four historic events which the writers of our Confession of Faith call “Christ’s exaltation.” For this reason, the church throughout its history has thought of Easter as a season and not simply a Sunday. The “Great 50 days” is a season during which we remember Jesus’ appearances to the disciples, the giving of the Great Commission, His ascension into heaven, and His sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Simply put, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead not only fulfills numerous Old Testament types, but it inaugurates a whole new era. In the resurrection, Christ stands as our conquering hero; in the ascension, the session at God’s right hand, and the promise that He will one day return is His coronation and the commencement of His reign as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The Ascension is probably the lost feast of the church. We often hear of it only as a postscript to the Great Commission or a prelude to the Day of Pentecost. It occurs 40 days after Easter. The number 40 in scripture often indicates the time period for a Divine work: the rains of the flood lasted 40 days; Isaac was 40 years old when he took Rebekah to be his wife; the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness and ate manna 40 years; Moses was on the mountain for 40 days receiving the law at Sinai; Jesus fasted 40 days while being tempted in the wilderness. The Westminster and Heidelberg Catechisms teach us that the ascended Christ prepares a place for us, gathers and defends His church, furnishes His ministers and people with gifts and graces, makes intercession for them, and sends His Spirit to us (Larger Catechism answers 53-54, Heidelberg Catechism answer 49). A document from the fifteenth century captures something of the mystery of the ascension when it says, “This Ascension Day is properly the most solemn feast of our Lord Jesus; for this day first in His manhood He began to sit on the Father’s right hand in bliss and took full rest of all His pilgrimage before. Also this is properly the feast of all the blessed spirits in heaven: for this day they had a new joy of their Lord whom they saw never before there in His manhood.” (The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, c.1490)
Pentecost was the Old Testament Feast of Weeks. It commenced 50 days (7 weeks) after Passover and celebrated by the giving of first fruits from the harvest. The vivid imagery of the Bible describes the death and resurrection of Christ and the subsequent resurrection of believers as the fulfillment of this Old Testament feast: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). It is wonderful that on the day of Pentecost Luke records in the book of Acts that upon receiving the Spirit from the ascended Christ, Peter sowed the seed of the Word upon the people and “those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2.41).
May God grant us grace these 50 days to see more and more of Christ, that our worship would be ever increasing in love and fervor!