by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena
The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday —the Feast of Pentecost— with food for thought on the empowering gift of the breath of the Holy Spirit in both our inward and outward journeys. Gnaw away!
Pentecost: John 20:19-23
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Temple authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As God 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.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
If this Gospel seems especially familiar, it’s because we heard it a little more than a month ago on Easter 2. Only there, it was extended to include the story of Thomas and the talk of seeing and believing. That Sunday, the emphasis was on believing in the resurrection. This Sunday, we hear this because it’s Pentecost, the day we remember the Holy Spirit, “God’s holy breath” descending on the church.
“That day, the first day of the week,” is Easter Sunday … which means in John, the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit are nearly simultaneous. This is the Jesus whose promise we heard two weeks ago “I will not leave you an orphan.” This is the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Christ. A chapter where the life of Christ is lived through us. A chapter that is still being written today.
A few things to chew on:
“Jesus breathed on them.” In many situations, this might have seemed socially awkward! But not here. This is the Jesus who said, “I and the Father are one.” Breath … Spirit … in the Hebrew ruach. We remember breath from Genesis where God breathed life into humanity. We breathe, we live, because God first breathed life into us. Ruach is not the essence of God. The disciples didn’t become God any more than Adam did. But ruach/breath is a power that comes from God, that, like the wind, can set things into motion, whose source remains mysterious. Through God breathing on humanity, we came to life and had the potential to live and move and have being in the way that God did .. but not as God (in fact, believing we are God is the source of all our brokenness). Here Jesus breathes a new life
into the disciples, empowering them to live and move in new ways. To be like Christ in the world.
Jesus doesn’t say, “kick back, relax” before breathing his holy, new-life-giving breath on the disciples. He tells them to be at peace and then says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Ruach or holy breath is what sets things in motion … and it’s supposed to set us in motion, too. That motion leads outward into the world in self-giving love. Quite a message for a group that was huddled behind locked doors in fear! But that’s the Gospel. It may be comforting (and, in fact, another word for the Holy Spirit is “the Comforter”) but it is not supposed to make us kick back in comfort. It moves us, energizes us, sends us out into the world. It bids us live as Christ lived, so secure that we are God’s beloved that we can give our lives away.
Breathe. Just breathe.
There is something powerful about breath. We know it is life, and to breathe intentionally is to focus on life itself.
Many years ago, when I came back from a trip to Rwanda, I couldn’t get the images of the genocide out of my mind and heart. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to forget and use my power and privilege to go back to a life with the luxury of thinking that kind of pain and sin doesn’t exist. But I also needed to not let it capture me. I needed to have sin forgiven and not retained. I needed to give it to God and let God send me where I needed to go with whatever wisdom I could glean.
My spiritual director told me I needed to breathe. “Breathe in pain,” she said. “and breathe out peace.” And so I did … and it changed my life. I would sit in prayer and just breathe in all the pain and brokenness, let it rest on my heart. Then I would breathe out peace. Give the pain to God. Forgive the sin. Loose the demon. Hear Christ’s voice not just for me but to the world, “Peace be with you.”
This week, take a few minutes each day in prayer with whatever pain and brokenness that weighs on your heart. Breathe in pain. Breathe out peace. Then let yourself be sent into the world to love as a beloved child of new life.
Jesus said, “As God has sent me, so I send you.” The journey of discipleship is always two journeys … an inward journey and an outward journey. The inward journey is of prayer, worship and study. The outward journey is of service, action, giving and proclamation.
Jesus reminds the disciples locked away in their room that they are not to stay there. That they are supposed to go outward. To live, love, serve, act, give and proclaim.
This week, do some journaling about being sent. It could be about a journey you were sent on … or maybe one you might be sent on. What does it mean to go on it sent “like God sent Jesus?” What story comes to you?
Let it Go
Holy breath is a gift of power. Jesus breathes on the disciples to move them from behind their locked door, sending them into the world as he was sent.
But there’s more.
Jesus says, “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.”
Sin is whatever separates us from the love of God. It is broken relationship where God dreams for wholeness.
With the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives the disciples — the new church — the power of brokenness and wholeness. And in doing so gives the church her mission.
Our prayer book says the mission of the church is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” It is a mission of forgiveness of sin. Of bringing beloved wholeness out of the tragedy of brokenness.
And yet the converse is also true. Where we hold back. Where we retain sin. Where we let brokenness stand or even create more … there will be brokenness. There will be division. There will be sin.
Jesus’ words to his disciples are words of great power. Through the power of the Spirit, God can use us to make lives whole and make life whole.
But with that power comes responsibility. Sin, brokenness — it can be retained as well. In the world, in our lives, in our own hearts.
And there’s still more.
Part of our own brokenness is we hold onto things that separate us from God. Unhealthy habits. Unhealthy relationships. Unhealthy ways of thinking and being.
These are sin … subtle and seductive with a unique gravitational pull. What is separating you from the love of God in Jesus Christ? Are you letting it go or grasping it back?
In your life. In your family. In our All Saints Church community. In our city and region.
Where are you letting sin be forgiven? Where are you helping it be retained?
Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday click here for this Sunday’s readings.
Collect for Sunday: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.