4-19-17 - Breath of God

When Jesus appeared in that locked room on Easter night, he wasn’t just dropping in to catch up with his buddies. He had some business to do. Once their lower jaws returned to normal position, he said to them again, “Peace be with you.” And then he got to it:

“’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.’”

Now that they had a better grasp on just what Jesus meant when he said, “As the Father has sent me…” I wonder how they felt about the daunting, “So I send you.” But he wasn’t done. He was not only sending them, but also equipping them with the only power they would need, the Holy Spirit.

The New Testament records two occasions on which Jesus’ followers receive the Holy Spirit. The better known is at Pentecost, when a sound like a mighty wind fills the house where they are praying, and flames seem to alight on each one, and suddenly they have spiritual gifts and abilities they didn’t have before. That’s how Luke tells it in Acts. In the Fourth Gospel, John says they receive the Spirit directly from the Risen Christ on Easter night. No fifty-day wait. Right here, right now. He breathes upon them; the Spirit is given.

In the Genesis creation story, the Spirit of God breathes upon the waters in the beginning. This ruach, Spirit-wind or breath of God, also fills the mud creature Adam with life. So Jesus, in breathing the Spirit upon his followers, is re-creating them, making them anew – no longer just disciples who followed him in faith, but now apostles equipped to bear witness to their risen Lord. Not only will they carry within themselves the power that created all things, they will also have the spiritual authority to forgive sins. They can release, or they can retain. (I’m not sure when it’s appropriate to retain someone’s sin – perhaps in cases of extreme non- repentance. All I know is Jesus forgave an awful lot.)

Are you aware of the power of the Holy Spirit in you? That gift Jesus gave his disciples has come down to us, through faith enacted in the rites of the church. Are you conscious of the spiritual authority you have to forgive or retain? It’s not only clergy who can forgive – it’s all saints, you and me.

What if the Church really took up its ministry of forgiveness of sin – not mindlessly, but thoughtfully, lovingly? How many people do you know who carry a burden of guilt around with them that we could help ease? It’s not our own forgiveness we declare, but that of God, through God’s Spirit in us.

Jesus was sent to set humanity free. Now he sends us to participate in that mission, and he breathes upon us his Holy Spirit. Take a deep breath in…. hold it, let it expand in you…. Feel the life of God fill you. And then exhale, breathing God’s forgiving love out upon someone else (even yourself..). And then do it again. And again.

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