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Keep Breathing, Beloved

A Sermon on John 20:19-22, with allusions to Genesis 1:1-5 and 2:4b-8

 

Pentecost

Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes like a mighty blast of wind, as in the Pentecost story that we remembered earlier.  But more often, the Holy Spirit comes like a gentle breath, as in the gospel lesson we just read.

I don’t think Jesus’ disciples could have taken a mighty blast of the Spirit that night behind locked doors.  They had heard Mary Magdalene’s testimony that she had seen Jesus, but they were still traumatized.  They didn’t know what to make of what had happened on the cross two days earlier, and they were afraid that the authorities might be coming for them next.

What Jesus did that night was true to God’s character.  God always takes into account what is going on with God’s people, and comes to them in ways that fit the situation and address them where they are.  Jesus came quietly and stood among them, and the first thing out of his mouth was a word that they so badly needed to hear:  Peace. Sweet, sweet healing peace in the middle of turmoil within and without.  “Peace be with you” Jesus said, and before they had a chance to reply, he showed them his wounded hands and feet.  It truly was Jesus, and he wasn’t just a figment of their imagination.

“Peace be with you,” he said again, and then he added, “Just as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  Jesus’ mission was now their mission.  They would love as he loved.  They would do as he did.

And then Jesus was silent.  All they could hear was the sound of his breathing.  Jesus breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

It was so quiet and gentle and low-key, and yet this was nothing less than a new creation.  Just as God breathed over the face of the deep at the first creation, and just as God breathed life into humanity in the beginning, the risen Christ now breathed new life into his followers and into his church, overcoming hopelessness and despair.

It is so disheartening, with people we love contending with difficulties that go on and on, without any good resolution in sight.  And when will the time when we can embrace come again, when we can gather without fear of making each other sick?

This has been such a disheartening week.  It is discouraging how badly people treat each other, how little regard they show for other people’s wellbeing.  Some people are refusing to do simple things like wear a mask to help protect others, and insisting on doing things that put others at risk in the name of their own rights.  The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and all the aftermath is heartrending, and even more so because it points to great unhealed wounds in our nation.  Sometimes the kingdom of God seems further away than ever, and all our efforts to practice and teach the way of Jesus’ love seem not to make much difference.

The picture of Jesus’ disciples huddled inside, disheartened and afraid really speaks to me now as we flawed and fearful disciples navigate these troubled times.  This story invites us to be quiet, quiet enough to hear Jesus speak the word of peace to us.  Quiet enough to hear him renew our call to mission.  Quiet enough to hear him breathing.  And in the breathing to find the strength we need to go forward.

Sometimes in the midst of pain and distress you can almost forget to breathe, or to breathe deeply anyway.  I remember when the ambulance was on the way to take me to the hospital before Laura was born the doctor was talking to me on the phone line, and he said, “Keep breathing.”

The living Christ is among us, breathing into us the very breath of life, the Spirit of healing, the Spirit who makes things new, who overcomes hopelessness and despair.  Remember to breathe, beloved.  Help one another remember to breathe.  Breathe deeply, beloved, and receive the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

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