by Dena Douglas Hobbs
Scripture: John 20:19-23
“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.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”(NRSV)
“When he said [Peace be with you], he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.””
For many years when I would read or hear this passage the first Sunday after Easter I would always be drawn to the doubting Thomas part of the story that follows in the verses immediately after those listed here. Thomas’ story is of course a compelling one that we can relate to, so it draws us in.
However, if we only focus on the doubting Thomas verses, we miss what happens in the first part of the passage that we read above. The part where Jesus gives the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit. That’s right, my friends, we have an alternate to the Pentecost passage right here. Except this time instead of the Holy Spirit coming down with wind and fire, it is given in a less dramatic but more intimate fashion.
Jesus gives the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit by breathing on them. That’s right, he Breathes On Them.
Now, I am a yoga teacher, so I love the breath. My breath is often the way I calm myself down enough to tune into God and how the Spirit is moving in me. So it makes perfect sense that when Jesus wanted to give the disciples a part of himself, his very Spirit, he would use his breath.
Also, this action mirrors the creation passage where God gives Adam life by breathing into him. When the divine Son wanted to pass on new life through the Spirit, it is a nice bookend that he too uses the breath to give that life to his friends.
But let’s be honest. I am also a mom. So when I hear the phrase, “He breathed on me!!” it is rarely a good thing. It means that little brother has invaded big sister’s personal space once again and offended her with his presence and his stinky breath.
If someone is breathing on you, they have to be close. Very close. So close to rub off on you a little. Close enough that if you are around them much part of them might become part of you, whether you like it or not.
Here Jesus does one of the most intimate things one person can do to another, and there is no complaining. Only rejoicing. For the disciples wanted to be that close to Jesus. They wanted to have part of him reside in them. They wanted him to rub off on them. They wanted to live in Christ and have Christ live in them even after they could no longer touch the scars on their friend’s body.
When I read this passage I wonder, who in my life is close enough to me to be within breathing distance? Is this someone I want to rub off on me, to become a part of me?
Am I staying within breathing distance of Jesus? Am I allowing the Christ to constantly fill me with his presence and transform me more and more into his image?
Questions to Spark Conversation
-How are we drawing closer and closer to Jesus?
-Who in our life is within “breathing distance”?
-Who in our life has a Spirit like Jesus?
-How can we spend more time with them?
Practice a breath prayer together. On a slow big inhale focus on receiving the Spirit of Jesus, on a long slow exhale let go of anything that needs to be released.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what you do love,
and do what you would do.
Breathe of me, Breathe of God,
till I am wholly thine,
Till all this earthly part of me
glows with thy fire divine.