Breathing with the Risen Jesus: Reflections on John 20:19-23

"Jesus breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'"

These are among the most forgotten words in sermons on the Second Sunday of Easter. Jesus breathed, sending his life energy to his disciples and to us. The Holy Spirit can come to us in dramatic ways, as Acts 2 portrays, but it can also come in the simplest, most overlooked manner, in the very act of breathing. Could it be that as you read this, you are breathing some of the molecules that Jesus sent forth into the universe from the room where the disciples met? Could it be that the Holy Spirit is as near as your next breath? Could it be that insight and wisdom, courage and vitality, are as near as your next breath?

Breathing is underrated as a Christian spiritual discipline. But this passage shows us that we can breathe with Jesus. Each breath can be a prayer and an opening to God's Spirit. In locked doors where fear abounds, breath abides. Jesus greets the disciples with the words, "Peace be with you," and then he breathes on and in them. Jesus is breathing peace, and invites us to do likewise.

Have you ever noticed the spiritual energy that emerges, the peace that arises, when you simply stop what you're doing and take a few deep breaths? I invite my seminary students and new pastors to begin every sermon with a deep breath or two as they come up to the pulpit. I tell them that "the congregation will wait, and better yet, when you breathe, you gain composure and confidence that will be reflected in your delivery and presentation."

It is not accidental that the word "inspiration" has to do with drawing air into the lungs. Each breath can be inspiring, taking in the Holy Breath of God and then breathing it forth into the universe. Inspiration embodies omnipresence. Resurrection breath is everywhere—in locked rooms and closed hearts—waiting to liberate us from all that brings anxiety and alienation.

Peace is only a breath away. Today, why not practice breathing the resurrection? Take time to read these words, making them your own, "Jesus breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" Better yet, why not personalize these words:

Jesus is breathing in my life and I am receiving the Holy Spirit.
Every breath I take opens me to inspiration.
Every breath is a prayer.

Resurrection means that Jesus is everywhere, inspiring all who breathe, giving life to deadened spirits and inspiring healthy embodiment. Breathe with Jesus' resurrection breath and receive God's ever-living Spirit.

4/26/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Bruce Epperly
    About Bruce Epperly
    Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at for lectures, workshops, and retreats.