Jesus Breathed on Them

I apologize for not posting this sooner. Here’s the sermon from Sunday, April 19…

This Sunday’s scripture lesson is from John 20:19-31 in which we find Jesus’ disciples huddled fearfully behind locked doors. They have heard Mary Magdalene’s witness to her encounter with the Risen Christ along with Peter and the Beloved Disciple’s (likely John) report that the tomb was indeed empty, but the primary emotion they are all feeling is fear. Bishop William Willimon, in a sermon delivered at the Duke University Chapel, comments, “Look at them! For long, painstaking chapters in John’s gospel, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for his departure. He has gone over, then over again, his commandments to love one another, to be bold, to trust him, to be the branches to his vine, to feed on the Bread of Life, to be ready to follow him at all costs. Somebody wasn’t paying attention. Look at them, cowering like frightened rabbits behind closed, bolted shut doors! Some disciples, some First Church Jerusalem!”

The good bishop may be overly harsh on those poor souls. Given all that they had experienced over the past few days, I’m inclined to cut them some slack. I suspect that few of us have ever experienced quite that same kind of fear.

In the midst of their turmoil, Jesus appears, shows them his wounds, extends God’s peace to them—and he breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit. It’s a very quiet giving of the Spirit, in contrast to what we read about in the account of the first Pentecost, with the rush of a violent wind, divided tongues as of fire, and the disciples speaking in other languages.

In our lesson for Sunday, “Jesus breathed on them and said to them, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.” I think Jesus knew that they weren’t quite ready for fireworks, so a gentler approach was more appropriate.

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