[Excerpted from the May/June 2018 issue of Emmanuel. Barbara Shanahan is an alumna of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois. She has led the Buffalo, New York, Catholic Bible Studies Program since 1992.]
As we bring the Easter season to a close, we might pick up some thoughts that have been woven into the readings we have heard over these 50 days. Among them, the frequent mention of the reaction of people who are described as “astounded” and “bewildered.” Luke uses these words to describe the witnesses to the Pentecost event (Acts 1:11). Thinking back on Easter morning, we heard Mark’s resurrection account proclaimed and were told that the women encountered the messenger inside the empty tomb, who told them that Jesus had been raised to life and they were to tell the disciples that Jesus would see them in Galilee. In response, the women fled the tomb seized with “trembling and bewilderment.”
In the Old Testament where individuals have a close encounter with the Holy God, their response is similar. Moses, when he saw the burning bush, fell to the ground; the people at Sinai, when they saw fire, wind, and lightning, were afraid (Ex 19). When Isaiah encounters God in the temple, he describes incense rising and the hymn of the Seraphim and the shaking of the door frames of the temple. He was “bewildered” (Is 6).
Such language is used by biblical writers to say that human beings are out of their element when in the presence of God. Trembling, bewilderment, and amazement is the appropriate response in such cases. Usually we manage to keep God at a safe distance, but the Easter events leading up to Pentecost do not let us remain there. We are brought face-to-face with the profound mysteries at the heart of our faith.