Second Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 28, 2019

April 28, 2019  

John 20:19-31

According to the gospel of John, on the night of his arrest, after Jesus had shared the last supper with his disciples Jesus had a lot to say to them. His words, his farewell, included a promise:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).

In today’s gospel reading, describing the evening of the day of his resurrection, spoken only four days after his farewell, Jesus told the disciples

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

Then Jesus breathed on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

Jesus breathed on them.

Remember what it is like to breathe on the face of a little baby? Imagine you are holding a baby in your hands with the baby’s face looking toward yours. And then you slowly blow on the baby’s face… The baby might be startled. The baby might smile or even laugh.

Now imagine the risen Christ standing right in front of you, close to you. You are both face to face. Then Jesus breathes in and slowly blows that air onto your face.
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

For the disciples it was a promise kept.

“Peace be with you.”
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

I am captivated by the wording of this story. John wrote “Then Jesus breathed on them and said to them Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Is the word “them” collective? Did he just breathe into the room while standing in front of them as a group? Or did he move between them, breathing on each one of them individually? I have glossed over this part of the story when I have read it and preached about it in the past. Now I’m wondering. And I’m imagining. I am imagining the intimacy of Jesus walking from person to person, breathing in and slowly blowing air on the faces.

“Peace be with you.”
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Imagining Jesus breathing on each person reminded me of a hymn folks sang years ago, for Lutherans it was in the Service Book and Hymnal. We are going to sing it today—in just a few minutes.

Breathe on me Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew…

 Breathe on me, Jesus. Fill me with life.

It is written in the 2nd chapter of Genesis:

…then the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life; and Adam became a living being” (verse 7).

Breathe on me breath of God. Fill me with life.

We need this new life, just as the disciples needed the new life Jesus breathed on them.

The disciples were being empowered to continue the mission of Jesus. As Biblical scholar Gail O’ Day wrote “Those who believe in Jesus receive new life as children of God and the Holy Spirit is the breath that sustains that new life” (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 9 p. 846). She also wrote “The church’s identity as a people is shaped by the gifts it receives from the risen Jesus” (TNIB vol. 9 p. 848).
And she wrote “The faith community’s mission is… to bear unceasing witness to the love of God in Jesus” (TNIB vol. 9 p. 848).

 

Jesus breathed his breath of love onto his disciples, calling them to continue to share his word of love, his word of peace with the world they lived in.
This morning Jesus is not here with us, physically, to breathe his breath of love on us.

Instead we receive his spirit of love and peace through the waters of baptism. Our baptismal water cleanses us from our sin. When we were baptized we were sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked with the cross of Christ forever, empowered to continue the mission of Jesus. Our baptismal covenant includes a commitment to work for justice and peace. Our baptismal commitment included a commitment to care for others and to care for the world.
It takes energy to do those things. It takes time. And so we pray as we sing:

Breath on me breath of God.
Fill me with life anew.
That I might love what thou dost love,
and do what thou wouldst do.

Amen.