Breathing the Spirit

A Sermon for 28 April 2019 – Second Sunday of Easter

Here we are the second Sunday during the 50-day season of Easter. And the gospel reading for today takes us to the night on which the tomb first was found empty. Listen for God’s word to us in this reading of John 20:19-31.

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

This is the word of God for the people of God! Thanks be to God!

 

The Septuagint is the oldest translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek. It’s believed to have been completed by 70 Jewish scholars about 300 or so years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It is of note, according to biblical exegete Gregory A. Robbins, that the Greek word emphysao occurs just two times in the Septuagint (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, p. 399). We can find emphysao, the verb to breathe in Genesis 2. That beautiful second account of the creation story, which tells that when God made the earth – but before the rain had fallen to cause plants to spring up from the ground. The LORD God formed from the mud of the earth the body of the first human. One destined to work the soil, till the ground for the earth to produce all we would need for life. God shaped the head. Crafted the torso. Was wise enough to form fingers and feet and every miraculous part of our complicated systems. But before this creature could do anything – be anything: the LORD God exhaled right into the nostrils of that body barely separated yet from the ground. According to Genesis 2:7, God emphysao – God breathed the spirit of life, the breath that animates us, and, at last, the creature was alive! A living being able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design (Genesis 2:3-9).

Remember the great vision of the prophet Ezekiel? The people are exiled from their land. Cut off from the great Temple. Convinced all hope is lost. That the LORD God had abandoned them due to their wayward ways. As brittle as fallen fall leaves months after winter begins, like bones lying waste for decades under the brutal desert sun; the hearts of God’s people had shriveled up completely. Those that are left feel as good as dead – as if they’ll never be fully alive at home in the land of Israel ever again. In the vision to the prophet, God says speak Ezekiel. Tell them: I am the LORD God. And I will re-create! I will cause bones to re-connect. Tendons to grow again. Flesh will re-generate. And, at last, I will emphysao. I will breathe into you again, Ezekiel 37 reads. And you shall live. You shall know that the great I AM is LORD! Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of all! I will act! God declares to the prophet. With the Breath, I will bring you back to Life! (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

Then, on the first evening of Easter – the stone rolled from the tomb something like twelve hours earlier – a new collection of God’s people huddle. Hunkered down in a hid away room, they are locked together in fear. Just a few hours ago they enjoyed the sights and sounds of Easter: he is not here, he has risen! Look! The tomb is empty! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! How quickly the high of the good news fades and this new little ban of God’s people are frozen in their tracks. Afraid. For their own lives? For what a Risen Christ might command? The gospel isn’t entirely clear. We can only imagine what our own reactions to the first news of Easter might be. A silly tale. Some sort of trick – someone must have come to move away the life-less shell of Jesus’ body, we might think. Or maybe we’re more like Thomas, the Twin: ones who need the burden of our own proof. Sights, sounds, summons directly from the Risen Christ – not just stories someone else tells us to believe.

As many of us feel at the death of our loved ones – that mix of anguish for our loss – never to hold their hand in our own again. Yet so relieved their pain has come to an end – the difficulty of their last days turning to everlasting peace. Feeling just like that, maybe we too would have been locked away behind closed doors. Hearts wanting to hope, yet still wrung dry from the past three days of intense sorrow. When, at last, the Presence of the Risen Christ comes among us. The One we believe to be God-in-flesh. The First and Last. The Word exhaled like breath from the great Creator at the beginning of time – breathed into us again and again and again to bring us back to Life. The wounded, yet Risen One breaks right into the prisons in which we have locked ourselves away and speaks Peace! Peace be with you! He shows his wounds. As if to say that on our journey to become whole again, we’ve no need to hide our own either. For it is our wounds that are used most powerfully for God to work. Then, as our broken hearts begin to mend, emphysao! The Risen Christ breathes upon the devoted ones filling us up with the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Life, the Breath that animates us. To become Living Beings able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design!

This week I’ve been meditating upon the beautiful blessings of the amazingly creative Rev. Jan Richardson in the book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Her blessings for Holy Saturday and Easter morn’ remind how important is the Breath. How significant the truth that God breathes in us. Listen to this “Blessing for a Broken Vessel, for Holy Saturday.” And hear it two ways at once: as words for the wounded, waiting body of our Crucified Lord; and as words for the wounded places in us. The blessing goes: “Do not despair. You hold the memory of what it was to be whole. It lives deep in your bones. It abides in your heart that has been torn and mended a hundred times. It persists in your lungs that know the mystery of what it means to be full, to be empty, to be full again” – shew! Right there! In our lungs: the pattern of Christ’s Way. The fullness of living God’s purpose for us. The emptying that comes as we serve – as we exhale to give ourselves away like Christ. And the fullness that comes again – the rising that God causes after we empty ourselves like Christ! Richardson goes on to write: “I am not asking you to give up your grip on the shards you clasp so close to you, but to wonder what it would be like for those jagged edges to meet each other in some new pattern that you have never imagined, that you have never dared to dream.” (pp. 144-5).

Emphysao! The Holy Spirit of God breathed into us, as into those first frightened disciples. To re-create us into a new pattern we never have dared to dream! How amazing that in God’s infinite wisdom, our very own lungs remind of the Presence of the One wanting to work through us! The Spirit – the Wind, Jesus one time called it. The Advocate, he’s recorded as saying as well. The Breath of God that connects us all. That commands us all to Live! Truly Live. Speaking peace, like our Savior and Lord. Forgiving sins, like a merciful father. Going out into the world to be about the very same work as Jesus: healing hurts, restoring hope, setting free for abundant new life! We cannot do it on our own. The gifts we have. The talents. Our own sheer force of will. None of it ever will be enough to be about the work of the Risen Christ. Unless God breathes in us. Unless the Holy Spirit breathes through us, we cannot do anything. Cannot be anything. Without emphysao, we will not be Living Beings able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design. Remember that the very next time you inhale. Then exhale. Then inhale again. It is God breathing in us that empowers us to live Christ’s Way each day!

Glory be to the amazing life-giving Father, life-redeeming Son, and life-sustaining Spirit! Alleluia and Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

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