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Dave Brisbin

Why We Count

We just finished counting the forty days of Lent that ended with Easter, only to begin counting again, this time to 49 plus one that will take us to Pentecost. Each counting is a time of preparation, but for what?

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, and Pentecost the moment his followers engaged the full weight of spirit, but these were superimposed on the Hebrew celebrations of Pesach and Shavu’ot. Originally agricultural festivals, the people would ritually count seven weeks of seven between Pesach at the spring barley harvest and Shavu’ot at the summer wheat harvest. Over time, simple timekeeping between harvests—seven, the number of spiritual perfection, times seven—became the perfect time of preparation between Pesach/Passover, the physical liberation of the people from slavery, and Shavu’ot, the giving of the Law, a new relationship with God and the spiritual liberation of the people.

We are now in this count, the time of preparation between Easter, physical liberation from death, and Pentecost, representing spiritual liberation. Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, that he was born of water, physical birth, but must be reborn of spirit. Ritually, baptism, represents water birth, entry into the tribe, our physical liberation, but too often the story ends there.

Many of us spend entire lives in this count, this time between physical and spiritual liberation, never experiencing another liberation that can only be realized after a descent that strips us down to as basic an existence as if being born all over again. For Jesus, the descent is represented in the wilderness and his time in the tomb. For Jesus’ followers, it is the shock and awe of Calvary that strips them bare of everything they thought they knew, leaving them counting the days to their individual Pentecosts, the moment they break into new relationship, their own spiritual liberation, second birth.

Our journeys have this same shape, and Calvary is the threshold between two liberations. The way to Pentecost begins at Calvary…the moment we think we’ve lost everything is the beginning of our ascent.

It’s why we count.


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