“God’s Breath”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

April 3, 2016

John 20:19-31


The story says that the earth was empty and barren back then—no green grass, no yellow daffodils, no blue jays or red-tailed hawks or white-tailed deer.  No August rain, no April snow, no December wintry mix.  But God was there, and the soil was there, and God bent down and picked up a handful of that earth.  It was good, dark soil, rich and crumbly.  And God added a little water from the stream that flowed nearby, and God mixed and molded and started forming a creature.  God made toes with toenails, eyelids with eyelashes, vertebrae and quadriceps and opposable thumbs and a big old brain.

And then God bent very near to that creature made of dust, so near that God’s lips brushed that creature’s face, and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.  God kissed him like a mother kisses her baby, right on the nose.  And that first human, the one we know as Adam, felt that breath flow into his lungs.  Oxygen poured into his capillaries.  Spirit poured into his heart.  And he got up from the ground and set about exploring the garden God had given him to tend.


The story says that the land and its people were suffering.  There had been violence upon violence, war upon war, and the now-deserted battlefield was full of dry bones, the skeletons of soldiers and innocents whose lives had been taken from them by force, by cruelty, by humanity’s inhumanity to our fellow humans.  But God was there, and the prophet Ezekiel was there, and God said to him, “Prophesy to the bones, Ezekiel.”  And Ezekiel prophesied.

And then God bent very near to those long-dead bones, and God breathed upon them the breath of life.  God kissed them like a father kisses his child’s skinned knee, right on the ouchiest spot.  And flesh appeared, and sinew, and bone came together with bone, and lives that had been cut short were renewed.  And that brown, desolate valley became lush and green and teeming with vibrant, flourishing life.  And the communities that had lost so many sons and daughters, the families that thought they were doomed to suffer forever, found themselves restored.


The story says that the disciples were scared to death.  It was the evening of the very day when they had received word that the tomb where their teacher, their friend, their Jesus had been laid was empty, that his body was not there, that he was not dead, but risen.  And the remaining disciples had locked themselves in a house for fear that the same authorities that had put Jesus to death would come for them, too.

They wanted to hide from everybody, especially from themselves.  Some of them crouched in the corner, rocking back and forth.  Some of them lay flat on their faces, weeping.  Some stared blankly at the wall.  The powers that be seemed to have triumphed.  The empty tomb was nearly impossible to believe.  The story of Jesus’ resurrection did not yet feel trustworthy; they could not bear to stake their lives on it again after it had ended so terribly the last time.

And then God bent very near to those fearful disciples, and Christ breathed upon them the breath of life.  Christ kissed them like a long-lost lover and said, “Oh, my friends, peace be with you.  Look—my wounds are real, but they are not the whole story.  I am not unscathed, but violence and death could not end me.  I know what fear feels like, and I am here to tell you that it does not own you.  Oh, my friends, peace, peace, peace be with you.”

And those trembling disciples felt fear’s icy grip begin to melt in the warmth of joy that filled their hearts.  And they remembered why they had followed Jesus for all this time, why they had taken that leap of faith and staked everything on this ministry.  They felt again the power Jesus had given them, their call to preach and teach, to heal and pray, to speak the truth and offer forgiveness and show forth the love of God to every person they met.


In each of these stories—from Genesis, from Ezekiel, from the gospel of John—God’s breath shows up and brings life where barrenness and death and fear seem to hold sway.  From bare earth, God’s breath summons fertility.  From dried-out skeletons, God’s breath summons vitality.  From disheartened disciples, God’s breath summons courage.  In the very places where hope is absent, where possibility seems impossible, God shows up and breathes upon God’s people, and new life rises from the dust.

In bombed-out towns and war-torn cities, God’s breath summons peace.  In broken hearts and shattered lives, God’s breath summons love.  For grieving parents and sorrowing children, God’s breath summons comfort.  For tired laborers and weary workers, God’s breath summons rest.

In nations beset by vitriol and hate, God’s breath summons nobility.  In families divided by conflict, God’s breath summons reconciliation.  In hearts hardened by pain, God’s breath summons compassion.  In bodies worn down by struggle, God’s breath summons strength.

When hope is absent and possibility seems impossible, God bends very near with a tender kiss and a deep breath of life, a sort of divine mouth-to-mouth that can resuscitate even the most dried-out, dust-caked, fear-bound life—even yours, even mine.

And here’s the thing.  God’s breath does not only bring life—it also brings purpose.  To that first human being, it brought the call to tend and care for the earth and its creatures.  To those dry bones and the prophet Ezekiel, it brought the call to restore the fortunes of the people Israel.  To the disciples on that first Easter evening, it brought the call to share the kind of free forgiveness that they had received with anyone whom they, or society, had condemned.

So I wonder:  what grace does God’s breath bring to you this day?  From what parched piece of your soul will God’s breath bring forth life?  From what fearful bondage will God’s breath free you?

And what will you do then?  To what vocation will God’s breath call you?  With whom will you share a word of peace, a gesture of forgiveness, a gift of resurrection life where no such thing seemed even remotely possible?  How will you go forth, not unscathed, but as a living sign that hate and hurt are never the end of the story?

Both in the Bible and in our world, there are more than enough stories of barrenness, death, and fear.  What new resurrection story is being written in you, even now?  And what story will you tell of life bursting out all over the place and love reigning triumphant over all?

Let’s get started.


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