Breathing Jesus

BreathingEaster 2C – Breathing Jesus
John 19:20-31
April 6-7, 2013

Jesus ‘breathed on them’ …

Of all the events in the life of Jesus,
I’d dare say that this event has been one of the most ignored
by artists, sculptors, poets, and musicians.
Where is Rembrandt’s painting of Jesus breathing on his disciples?
Where is the poem by TS Eliot?
or the statue by Michelangelo?
This event is not depicted in the Sistine Chapel.
I can’t think of a scene in a movie featuring it.
And I don’t know for sure, but I would guess there aren’t very many choir anthems composed about it.

There’s a gift however in not having any preconceived ideas about what the event might have been like…
There’s a gift in not having a picture in our minds about exactly what it was like…
because it allows us today to use our own biblical imaginations.

So let’s take a moment to imagine it ourselves.
It’s Easter evening.
The tomb is open, but the doors are shut.
The disciples have locked themselves in
because they’re scared.
To all intents and purposes, it seems to them that they were on the losing side.
Their leader was killed.

There was no spectacular last minute save
where Jesus broke free from the cross
and came down again.

There was no uprising by the populace to demand that he be set free.
No – their leader —
the one for whom they had dropped everything to follow – was dead.
They’d seen it themselves.

And now, the body was missing.
Would they be blamed?
Would they be the next ones hanging on a cross?

They were scared.
So they gathered together,
locking themselves behind a door.

But then…
but then….
Jesus came through that same locked door.
He stood in front of them.
He showed them his hands still bearing the marks from the nails
and the wound in his side where the sword had pierced him.
And he spoke to them, “Peace be with you,”
in a voice that they knew so well.
Again he said, “Peace be with you.”

And then we hear that “Jesus breathed on them…” and said “receive the Holy Spirit.”
So let’s use our biblical imaginations now.

Have you ever wondered what that breath from Jesus felt like?
Was it a gentle touch, such as a breeze softly brushing against their skin?
Or was it a powerful breath – more like a mighty wind –
a breath like they teach us in CPR class–
forcing air into their lungs and causing their chests to expand?
What did Jesus’ breath feel like?

Or…what did that breath smell like?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t choose to smell people’s breath very often…
Babies – yes – I love the smell of the breath of newborns.

And maybe a spouse…maybe I’d choose to smell the breath of a spouse…
But smell others’ breath? Usually not on purpose…

So what did Jesus’ breath smell like?
Was it sweet-smelling?
Could they smell the vinegar on the sponge touched to his lips on the cross?
Was the smell of the wine and bread he’d shared with the disciples three nights ago still there?
Or could the disciples smell the aroma of his Mediterranean diet – fish and olives; figs and pomegranates?
Was there something of paradise in the scent of his breath?

Take a moment of holy imagination
and allow yourself to feel and even smell the breath of Jesus…


Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”
He breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Whatever that breath felt like,
whatever that breath smelled like,
that breath also did something to the disciples.

It brought peace…and it brought power.
The disciples get a second wind (if you will).
Jesus enters through the disciples’ locked door
and his breath gives them the peace and the power so that they can go about God’s mission –
– God’s mission to proclaim God’s forgiveness;
– God’s mission to share the good news;
– God’s mission to go into the world doing what Jesus did – healing, giving, loving

On this Sunday in Easter, John reminds us that
Jesus can enter through every locked door
and by his mere breath bring peace and power.

And there are a lot of locked doors in our lives…

Retired Lutheran seminary professor Gordon Lathrop once said,
“You don’t have to knock very hard on any door in your parish to find some sort of agony behind that door.”

Knock on one in four doors and we’ll find a woman who is being or has been abused.
Knock on one in five doors and we’ll find a person who is hungry.
Knock on one in six doors and we’ll find a person suffering from anxiety or depression.

About every other door we knock on, we’ll find someone dealing with divorce.
Knock on one in 3 doors and we’ll find someone with some sort of an addiction….addiction to cigarettes, porn, alcohol…one in three doors!

Chances are, that you or someone you love is behind one of those locked doors.
The promise of the gospel for today is that you don’t have to unlock the door yourself – because I know you’ve tried, many times.

But Jesus can get through even without our help.
All we need to do is to be open to receive him – to receive his breath.
“Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says.

So today…
Picture the breath of Jesus.
Feel the breath of Jesus.
Smell the breath of Jesus.

And give thanks for the peace and power that his breath gives us.


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