And Jesus breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
This is something we want to hear personally and in our churches. The Spirit blows where it wills and wherever it blows, it brings new life and vitality. We need that spirit-filled experience just as those women and men gathered in an upper room needed not only to hear that Jesus was risen, but rise themselves through spiritual resuscitation. God’s breath brings us back to life and sets us on a path of healing and spiritual transformation.
In the biblical world, breath is a manifestation of God’s Spirit: God breathes over the waters and the universe takes form; God revives dry bones in a valley; and the Psalmist proclaims, “Let everything that breathes praise God.” (Psalm 150:6) Spirit moves through Jerusalem on Pentecost and gives birth to a new manifestation of the Jesus movement, the lively spirit-centered movement that we know as the church. God’s Spirit still breathes through us as the source of possibility and the energy to achieve God’s vision in our time.
Could Jesus’ animating energy still be reviving the world? Is it possible for us to breathe some of the same molecules – in homeopathic form – that Jesus breathed in upper room, giving his followers spiritual resuscitation?
We need breathing space and it is a credit to the disciples that they gave Thomas breathing space, and allowed him to live with his questions. He missed out on the spiritual revival of the upper room; and wanted proof that Jesus was alive. His quest was not just intellectual, it was experiential and spiritual. He wanted to see Jesus, feel his breath, and touch his body. He wanted the real presence of the risen Jesus not just talk about it. When Jesus returns to the group, he is amazed and transformed, and he can breathe again.
The reading for April 27 ends with curious and liberating words; words that invite us to be creative and do greater things than we can imagine (John 14:12) John 20:30 proclaims: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” In other words, there is more to Jesus than what we can find on the printed page, even the printed pages of scripture.
This is good news, for it says that Christ is still alive and that Christ’s work can never be encompassed by book or creed. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) God’s Spirit sets us free; it breathes on us and gives us energy for adventures ahead. It inspires to be God’s companions in our time and place.
Take time to breathe, inhaling and exhaling deeply. Simply breathing your prayers has been shown, according to medical studies, to reduce stress and enhance immune system functioning. It also awakens your connection with creation, breathing in, around, and through you. When we breathe in God’s Spirit, we are contemporaries with Jesus’ first followers, and we can imaginatively – and realistically – hear Jesus say to us as he breathes in us, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In return, we can affirm, “I breathe God’s Spirit and share God’s energy of love with all creation.”