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Friday, 18 April 2014

Do Good Things Come in Threes?

   How much validity does the expression "Good things come in threes" have?  I've also heard the opposite: "Bad things come in threes," such that a person who has had two things go wrong in her day was still expecting a third to make it complete.  I would venture that such statements are based on a type of superstition that stops counting after three.  Each day or event, depending on our outlook, can have numerous good or bad aspects to it.
   That being said, there is something special about the number three that goes beyond the formula for fairy tales (three wishes, three characters, three incidents) and the rules of baseball.
   Since it is Easter weekend, I'd like to share about the "three days" between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Jesus predicted more than once that, similar to Jonah's sojourn in the belly of the fish, he would be "three days and three nights" in the heart of the earth (Mark 12:40).  After that, he would rise again.
   The modern, Western reader may be perplexed, as I used to be, about how this timing exactly works. When we think of three days and three nights, we think in terms of 72 hours.  However, when you look at the Gospel accounts, Jesus' time in the tomb was much less than this.  Could Jesus have made a mistake? Was he exaggerating just so we'd see a parallel between his experience and Jonah's?
   Then I read about Jewish reckoning of time.  When we approach any text, we should be aware of the historical and cultural context in which it was written.  So, when a Jewish person speaks of "a day," it can mean 24 hours or any part thereof.  A part of a day is considered a whole in the way time is measured.
   There's one more thing.  While we measure a day from midnight to midnight, the Jews still consider the day beginning at sundown.  When we look again at the account of Jesus' death we see the following:

  • He was crucified on Friday, during which there were three hours of darkness in the middle of the day. Jesus dies in late afternoon, and his friends take his body to the tomb before sunset.  There is concern to do this quickly because the Sabbath is approaching. Friday counts as "Day 1."
  • It states in Luke 23:56b, "they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment."  This is "Day 2."
  • The Sabbath ended at sunset, but no activity would have been undertaken in the dark.  Thus the women got up "very early in the morning" on the first day of the week (Sunday) to bring spices to the tomb.  When they arrive the tomb is already empty. Some time during the night Jesus overpowered death.  That makes "Day 3."
The words of a Puerto Rican folk hymn, translated into English, refer to "good" and "three":

Oh how good is Christ the Lord!
On the cross he died for me.
He has pardoned all my sin,
Glory be to Jesus.
Glory be to Jesus!
Glory be to Jesus!
In three days he rose again.
Glory be to Jesus.

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