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The theophany of Pentecost

June 2, 2017

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Pentecost

On Pentecost “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house” (Acts 2:2).  It was sudden, startling.  It came up like a storm.  The noise was loud.   The wind roared.  Presumably, the house shook.  For the disciples, it was frightening yet awesome, glorious and enthralling.  They were immersed in a mystical experience, the powerful presence of almighty God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.  It was a theophany.

A theophany is an appearance of God accompanied by astounding signs and wonders that attest to God’s divine majesty, supreme authority, and infinite power.  A theophany involves one or more major forces of nature:  an earthquake, crushing rocks, dark clouds, storm, thunder, lightning, torrential rain, hail, howling winds, raging fire, billowing smoke, and blaring sounds.

The theophany of Pentecost recalls the great theophany of the Hebrew Scriptures, the appearance of God when Moses and the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai.  The sequence of occurrences was phenomenal:  peals of thunder, lightning, a heavy cloud, and a very loud blast (Ex 19:16); rising smoke, fire, and a quaking mountain (Ex 19:18); and the blast of the shofar that grew louder and louder, and yet more thunder (Ex 19:19).

The combination of natural signs pointed to a supernatural reality, that the omnipotent God was truly with Moses and the Israelites in the desert, and that this would be an encounter of epic proportions.  God created the world with a mighty wind (Gn 1:2) and put into place all of the forces of nature.  Then, with the forces of nature making a dramatic and impressive display, God confirmed Israel as the Chosen People and renewed the covenant through the conferral of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.

On Pentecost the disciples were all together in one place for a theophany that was similar, yet different.  God had appeared in the desert.  This time God appeared in Jerusalem.  The former appearance took place at Mount Sinai.  This appearance took place on Mount Zion.  Previously the Lord came down upon the mountain in fire.  This time the Holy Spirit came down over the heads of the disciples as tongues as of fire.  The former appearance enabled Moses to speak on God’s behalf.  This appearance enabled Peter and the other disciples to serve as God’s spokesmen.  The former involved spectacular natural signs.  This appearance involved fewer and smaller natural signs.

Like the appearance at Sinai, this appearance would be an event of epic proportions.  The coming of the Holy Spirit established the Church as the People of God.  After Jesus, both priest and victim, sealed the new and eternal covenant with the blood that he shed on the Cross, the Holy Spirit joined the Son in the institution of an everlasting unbreakable covenant extended to all of the nations on earth.

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