Breathe.

John 20:19-31

19 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[a]), 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[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Breathing Prayer: Before you read this, try this: sit up straight in your chair, feet squarely on the ground. Close your eyes and take in three deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose, out from your mouth. As you breathe in, ponder this thought, “God is relationship as demonstrated by the Trinity and fills every molecule, atom, etc. of space. You are breathing in the Presence of God that transcends time, space, history, etc.” As you breathe out, think of this, “you are letting go of whatever is inside of you into God. God that fills every nook and cranny of this world and in your body…release to God whatever is inside of you, things that you can give words to and things that you cannot give words to. Let the good and the bad flow out.” As God takes it and gives it back to you, be reminded that you are good, you are loved, and you are valued and connected to all things, all people, and to God’s Presence.

I’m sure we have all heard the expression that something beautiful or scary or amazing to see can “take our breath away”.  We have probably also experienced moments in our lives when we’ve attempted something like riding a roller coaster at King’s Island, or jumping into a cold lake, or maybe experiencing the birth of a child where it “took our breath away”.

Perhaps we have also had moments in our lives filled with fear or anxiety, times where we feel like our breath has been taken away.

Or maybe we are like the writer of this song, “Breathe (2 AM)” that says:

There’s a light at each end of this tunnel,
You shout ’cause you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out
And these mistakes you’ve made, you’ll just make them again
 

Click on this link to listen and watch a video of this song: https://youtu.be/FcvXr-9XtgA

We maybe feel trapped in situations that we feel like we can’t get out of on our own.  We feel caught and out of breath and in need of a “light at the end of a tunnel” or maybe out lives are like being underwater and we need to get to the surface for some air, to breathe.  We get caught in these moments and wonder “what’s next?”  And, can we handle what’s next?  We need help, we need to be rescued, we need to breathe, we need to find life, true life.

I think that’s especially true during this time of “stay at home” orders, of a pandemic.  We need time to “breathe”.  

Our text this morning has a lot to do with moments like this, moments in our lives when we need to breathe, breathing that brings life, and not just any life, but life as it was meant to be lived…no matter where we find ourselves in history.

Right after Jesus’ death on a Roman cross and resurrection from the dead.  Jesus appears to his disciples.  As we mentioned last week, it’s not every day that you see someone raised from the dead, they were disoriented, lost, so I imagine they were a bit overwhelmed, in shock, and wondering what was going to happen next.  

The disciples are in a state of fear.  They were locked in a room, afraid of the same folks who had just crucified Jesus and fearful that they would be after them as well.  They were literally in a “stay at home” quarantine out of fear for their lives!  They were wondering if there was a light at the end of the tunnel of fear that they were experiencing, the uncertainty was overwhelming, not sure what to think about what’s going to happen next.  The room was shut, and probably the lives of those disciples were in a state of being shut down from fear. There was probably a war of emotions going on within them.

Into this room, this state of anxiety, Jesus appears and has the greeting “Peace to you”.    The word “peace” in this context is a common word, but in this context, it meant the world to the disciples.  They needed what Jesus was giving.  

They had to be overwhelmed in seeing Jesus, but Jesus’ physical presence was also comforting.  Our passage this morning says that they rejoiced and they were strengthened by having seen the Lord.  

Jesus gives a charge to those disciples, an imperative command.  Just as the Father had sent Jesus to the world, Jesus was now sending the disciples out from behind shut doors of their lives towards an expansive way of living and into a crazy world desperate for hope.

Then, something happens, Jesus breathed on them.  This word “breathe” in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 2:7 where God breathes life into humanity, giving us life.  Jesus is in effect saying that he is the Son of God, God in the flesh, giving life to the disciples.  Jesus was not only bringing peace to the disciples, but breathing life into them.  The verse goes on to say that Jesus gives another imperative, to receive the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was breathing the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, God’s presence on to the disciples.  The Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, the unifying power of God would bring the disciples together, giving them confidence and power to overcome the world.  

The word for “spirit” in Hebrew is the same word for breath and wind.  Do you remember the strong winds that rocked our city this past week?  Well, God’s Wind is stronger and blows everywhere, filling every space. It has been with us before time, before history, it was and is and will be…it exploded out from the Big Bang and is every expanding, finding residence in humanity and ultimately fully in Jesus, who then breathes it out either literally or metaphorically to the disciples and to the world.  

The disciples needed to breathe in the breath of God.  The breath of God that brings life and the power to forgive sins.  Verse 23 in this passage can seem troublesome at first, does it mean that we can forgive others’ sins?  No, it is an affirmation that if we receive the Holy Spirit and abide in Christ as Christ abides in us as stated in John 15:4, then the work of the Holy Spirit which brings the forgiveness bought by Jesus Christ’s actions on the cross, is exhibited through us.  It is the power of God at work within us as we recognize God through Jesus Christ.  

In verse 24 of this passage, we see that one of the 12 disciples, Thomas, wasn’t around to see Jesus the first time he appeared in that room.  8 days later though, they are hanging out and Jesus appears.  It’s interesting to note that these same disciples who had just been blessed by Jesus showing up and breathing on them are scared and locked up in that room again!  Yet, Jesus breaks through the walls again, literally and metaphorically, the walls of their lives that they had built up…gives them a peace blessing and then addresses Thomas.  Thomas wants more tangible evidence, so Jesus gives it to them.  Jesus doesn’t want to shame Thomas, this passage isn’t here to give reference to Thomas’ unbelief, but it’s here to give hope to those who haven’t seen.  Thomas must touch deeply the wounds of Christ, to feel deeply the body of Christ.

Friends, we have to also experience our woundedness, deeply. In so doing, we can become healers, as Henri Nouwen states, “wounded healers” for those around us.

The writer of this passage is also giving a direct address to those reading in verse 31 that these things have been written for you…for us.

Friends, we may be living in fear, in anxiety.  We may have just witnessed Jesus’ very resurrection in our lives…we may even have lived our lives in expectation of God’s faithfulness to us.  Yet, here’s Jesus…appearing before us, walking through any barriers that we may be hiding behind.  Calling us out of the four walls we’ve enclosed ourselves in…giving us himself, breathing new life into us, and calling us towards the next thing…a full life with him!   Thomas and the rest of the disciples were living in fear, in disappointment.  They were tired.  Yet Jesus came to them, and comes to us…he invites us to know his scars, to touch the pain that has been inflicted upon him…to believe that he is God and is here with us now.  Friends, with this belief, with this faith, we can change the world…even if we are in a state of quarantine…God’s Spirit will flow through even the thickest of walls we build!  

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