By Aaron Matson
Originally published at the ELCA blog Faith Lens. Republished with permission.
Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you (literally or figuratively) or felt like you could not breathe?
I suffered from asthma through childhood. While my case was not as severe as some others, there were times when I could not breathe and needed the help of an inhaler. A few other times, in the course of playing sports with my friends, I had the wind knocked out of me through some extreme contact with someone or something (like the ground). From these experiences, I can tell you that anytime you cannot breathe, it is a scary experience. Breathing is just one of those things we take for granted and do without thinking. When we cannot do this thing which we normally do naturally and is so essential for life, it is distressing indeed.
While not everyone has had the wind knocked out of them, or been unable to breathe due to asthma, everyone, at some point of their life will have the breath knocked out of them emotionally or spiritually. Everyone will be faced with a moment of crisis or loss in their life that takes the wind right out of them – the loss of a loved one, the end of a close relationship, a broken heart, not getting that expected job or scholarship that your heart was set on. In those times, it is common for those trying to comfort us to say, “Relax, and just breathe.”
When have you had the breath knocked out of you emotionally or spiritually? If you haven’t experienced a time like this yet, has someone you know had those times? How have others supported you, or how have you helped others to “breathe?”
In the John 20:19-23, Jesus’ first disciples have had the wind knocked out of them. They have been through Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, and even though Easter has just happened, and a couple of them have witnessed the empty tomb, they are hiding behind locked doors out of fear – and I imagine some continuing shock and grief. Into this scene, all of a sudden, Jesus appears. To these fearful, lifeless and breathless disciples, Jesus gives peace, joy and a mission (“As the father sent me, so I send you.” 20:21).
Lastly, and most importantly, Jesus gives the disciples his breath, and in that breath he gives them the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ breathing on the disciples is reminiscent of how God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the first man in Genesis 2. Just as God’s breath gave life to humans in Genesis, Jesus’ breath of the Holy Spirit gave the lifeless and breathless disciples new life. That same breath of Holy Spirit given to the first disciples by the resurrected Jesus was also given to each of us in our baptism. In those times where we feel the wind, or breath, has been knocked out of us, we can draw peace and strength from the breath of life given to us in the Holy Spirit. We can “just breathe,” knowing that it is not up to us to breathe on our own – but God gives us the Holy Spirit to comfort us and help us, and in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8, intercede for us, “with sighs too deep for words.”
Have you ever experienced a time when you have needed some help “breathing” and felt the breath of the Holy Spirit help and comfort you?
This passage from John is called “John’s Pentecost story.” Compare this passage from John with the more famous Pentecost story from Acts 2. What are the similarities and differences between the two?
Life-giving God, breathe into us again that holy and life-giving spirit. In those times when we cannot breathe, help us to feel your Holy Spirit breathe new life into us again. Help us to share the good news of the risen Jesus with others so that they may know the peace of this Spirit and the breath of new life you have given us. Amen.