Breathe on me, breath of God
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”
It’s Sunday evening, the end of the worst three day period of their lives. Disarmed by disillusionment, despair and a dire fear for their own lives and livelihood, the small band of brothers is hunkered down behind locked doors. Sheltering in place is the order of the day as they attempt to make sense of the tragedy of Friday past and the awful uncertainty of the week/s ahead.
Ever since their first encounter with the young carpenter from Nazareth turned teacher, preacher and prophet, their lives had been radically transformed. Their mundane existence was swept aside as they were redirected down paths of righteousness away from a moral morass and into a moral movement meant to upset the status quo and unseat the powers of evil. For the past three years under the tutelage of their radical Rabbi they had been learning what it honest-to-goodness meant to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8]
And now in the matter of a few agonizing days it was all gone – because he was gone, dead and buried. Regardless of what a distraught Mary may think she saw in a pre-dawn garden, or what a couple of disciples didn’t see in an empty tomb, there was no sane and rational reason to believe that their hopes and dreams of a Godly moral universe had not all been shot to hell. Regardless of whatever positive spin one may wish to apply as salve to wounded souls, Thomas was not the only doubter among this frail and frazzled fraternity of lost and lonely disciples on that fateful Sunday evening.
It is into this cloistered den of dubious disciples (less one) that our down-in-the-dumps, dispirited story takes a sharp uphill turn with the friendly ghostly appearance of the risen Lord. Locked and barricaded doors be damned, Jesus is in the house. There in the midst of doubts and fears, sighs and tears stands their faithful friend and master like an exclamation point at the conclusion to a too-good-to-be-true love story.
As John’s interpretation of the greatest love story ever told draws to its remarkable and world-shattering conclusion, the protagonist foregoes any social distancing, leans in and according to John’s own intimate words, Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”
In a stay-at-home, pandemic-ridden world of masked social-distancers protective of their personal space, the scene of Jesus in the upper room breathing in the faces of his post-traumatic stressed out disciples takes on a whole new flavor. The mental image of such intimacy is provocative. But that is Jesus. That is the provoking, challenging, stimulating, confrontational risen Lord of Life that John knew and loved.
With every breath that Jesus breathes on them (and on us), John wants to remind his readers of the Creator God filling Adam’s earthly form with breath/Spirit (Ruach) in that first garden. With every breath that Jesus breathes on them (and on us) the disciples are being reborn and sent back into the world, back into the planetary garden to till and keep it, to protect and preserve it justly for the sake of all God’s creatures. With every breath that Jesus breathes on them (and on us) their baptismal promise is being fulfilled and they are rising with Christ to new life that begins right then and there (here and now)!
It was just before breathing the Holy Spirit (the breath of God) into them that Jesus had said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” The risen Jesus sends followers/disciples into a viral pandemic of Sin to proclaim, pray for and work for the now-but-not-yet Kingdom (reign) of God while we have breath to breathe. In so doing he sends us out with the proper PPE’s (personal protective equipment) contained within that breath of God. We are equipped with the Spirit of God, a Spirit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Against all doubt and fear, against all powers of enmity and strife we are promised that the same Spirit who had the power to raise Jesus from the dead is alive in us. In the name of the Triune God may we all take a deep breath and step outside our comfort zones well equipped to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly through our Creator’s world.