In the scriptures the number fifty is a mystical number. It is associated with deliverance. The jubilee year, described in the Book of Leviticus, was the fiftieth year: it was a time to set captives free, forgive debts, rejoice in the generosity of God, and imitate that generosity toward one another. Scripture scholars point out that we do not know if the jubilee year spoken of in the Bible was actually observed in history; there are no records to prove it. Yet it remained a powerful image of God’s will for restorative justice among his people and care for the earth.
Easter is the Christian jubilee, the commemoration of our deliverance from death through the power of Christ’s Resurrection. The fifty days of the Easter season bring us back to that same mystical number. This liturgical season is a week of weeks, plus the day of Pentecost. It is an experience of “the fullness of time,” not merely a series of days that pass like any other. Easter is a time when Christians are called upon to remember that because of the resurrection we have entered into a new time—the era of redemption. Easter is the vessel of our hope for a renewed cosmos, too; it brings with it an eschatological vision of justice and restoration. If we are going to celebrate anything for an extended period of time, surely Easter is it.
There is a black spiritual that captures well the joy of the promised jubilee of God’s redemption—something which is only capable of being realized in full “when Jesus comes”:
Sign me up for the Christian jubilee,
Write my name on the roll.
I’ve been changed, since the Lord has lifted me.
I want to be ready when Jesus comes.
It might well be heard as a song in praise of baptism, too, as the newly baptized find their names “on the roll” of the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3). This song has been used in celebrations of the Rite of Election, when catechumens sign the book of the elect on their journey to Easter. That rite is filled with eschatological hope, as the catechumens draw near to the font of rebirth.
At the Paschal Vigil, death gives way to life in the celebration of the sacraments of initiation, and the jubilee truly begins. Fifty days of rejoicing, from Easter to Pentecost. Fifty days to marvel at the fact that Jesus is alive and in our midst. Fifty days to reflect on the wonderful truth that the risen Lord has called us and sends us out in mission through the power of the Holy Spirit.