From Pauses for Pentecost
And with that Jesus breathed on them and said,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”
This moment must be one of the most intimate and intense in the New Testament. Imagine the scene behind locked doors. Fear fills the air. Jesus, standing in the midst of his disciples, breathes on them and gives them the gift of his own personal breath. This is the breath by which he has lived and loved and spoken. Yet his breath is also the Holy Spirit, our Heavenly Parent’s special gift and presence that Jesus has promised will be given to his disciples. Breath, in Jesus’s mind, is much more than a symbol for the Spirit. When he breathes onto and into his disciples, he is giving them the actual presence of his own Spirit.
Now, think of your own breath for a moment. It symbolizes a lot about your life. The Roman Catholic scholar, Raniero Cantalamessa, has written that our breath signifies what is most inward and intimate, most vital and most personal about us. Our breath keeps us alive. This is why feeling suffocated terrifies us. “I can’t breathe,” we cry out, “I need air.” If people look as if they are going to faint or they begin to panic or they feel totally overwhelmed, we say to them, “Breathe. Take a deep breath.” Nothing is more important to staying alive than breathing in and breathing out.
The comparisons to our lives with God are obvious. At the very least, there are times when our souls cry out for air. We feel suffocated by fears and anxieties, exhausted by our stresses and strains. Facing these challenges and crises, we feel out of breath. We wonder whether our winded lives can keep going. At the very worst, sometimes our souls literally die because of our neglect or our sin. Sometimes it is a painful grief that sucks the life out of us. Wonderfully, Ezekiel’s vision of God’s breath entering dead bones and giving them life reminds us that the Spirit always brings life again into the graveyards of our lives. (See Ezekiel 37:1-14.)
Easter people know that taking deep breaths of the Holy Spirit must become a daily habit. The good news is that the risen Jesus continues to breathe on and into us. He is willing to do this for anyone and everyone, especially for those willing to come close enough to feel his breath.
Pay attention to your breathing today. Imagine when you inhale that you are breathing the Spirit of God into your whole being. When you exhale, imagine that you are breathing out the love of Christ into the world around you.