Jesus breathes the Spirit: Station 10
Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father 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.’
Sometimes life gets busy, even during lockdown, and sometimes we feel anxious or surrounded by thoughts of our own isolation. When life gets like this, we often overlook a basic essential: breathing. We go on autopilot and our breath becomes shallow. It can be good to just stop and to have some focused breathing: Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Relax.
Have you ever listened to the rhythm of the sea or the ocean? Intentionally listened? When we listen to the swoosh and sway of the waves it relaxes us. Our own breath can have the same effect, relieving stress.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of his resurrection day, they were fearful and had chosen to go into lock down together, to hide away from the Jewish leaders. Jesus knew their fears and anxieties and so he greeted them with his Peace. The disciples were so pleased to see him, they were overjoyed. They saw that Jesus was flesh and blood, but supernaturally natural, because he had entered a room which had locked doors! Again, he said ‘Peace be with you!’ The excited disciples needed to be ready for what was to come next. He wanted them to receive the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.
Throughout the Bible, the Holy Spirit is often depicted as the breath of God, the wind of God. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Ruach means wind, breath or spirit. The word’s first use in the Bible appears in the second verse: “The Spirit of God [Ruach Elohim] was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). In Genesis 6:17 ruach is translated “breath of life.” Genesis 8:1 uses ruach to describe the “wind” God sent over the earth to recede the Flood waters. Altogether, the word ruach is found almost 400 times in the Old Testament. The corresponding Greek word used in the New Testament is pneuma. There is life in the breath of God and we are not truly alive until we allow God to breathe into us.
In our reading, Jesus identified himself with the Father, the one who sent Him, the one who gave him authority. Jesus sent his disciples, to be his witnesses, to declare that God forgives our sins and wants us to have new life with him. But he knew that the disciples couldn’t do that job on their own. They needed the power of the Holy Spirit and so he breathed on them and gave them a foretaste of Pentecost. The Holy Trinity is evident and at work in this story. Our God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – distinct and yet in relationship with each other. Our God is a relational God and He wants to breathe his life into us so that we can have a living, vibrant relationship with Him.
God has made us as physical as well as spiritual beings. Breathing is a physical act. We can come to God and ask Him to fill us with His Holy Spirit, then we can physically breathe in as we picture being filled with the breath of God.
I invite you to do some focussed breathing as we think about this. First, we need to remove all the clutter, both physical and emotional. Let go of the excess and choose to be in a quiet and comfortable space. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Relax.
Take long breaths through your nose. Release your breath through your mouth. As you continue to focus on your breath you will become calmer. Breathe deeply and consistently. Do you know that focused breathing has many health benefits and also breathing in the breath of God gives us spiritual benefits?
1. Reduces stress: Focused breathing calms us. We often go through our day on autopilot. We forget to breathe deeply. Our mental and physical health suffers. It’s easy to forget to breathe. Make a point to consciously feel your breath each day. You will be much more relaxed. Jesus greets you with his peace. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Relax.
2. Increases energy: Deep breathing allows more oxygen to enter our lungs and bloodstream. Oxygen creates energy. Body and mind will be reenergized after a short session of focused breathing. Try it. God wants us to be energised to serve Him, to be sent out by Jesus to share the Good News of our New Life with Him. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Relax.
3. Aids digestion: If you suffer from indigestion, breathing is one of the simplest cures. Deep breathing after meals will help you digest your food. The Spirit helps us to digest the Word, to make sense of what we read in the Bible. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Relax.
4. Creates happiness: When we are calm, we are at peace. When we are at peace our happiness level increases. When we are happy, we are calmer. Do you see a pattern here? Focus on your breathing and allow the joy of the Lord to fill your heart and mind. Inhale God’s Spirit and exhale God’s praise. As the Psalm 150 says: ‘Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!’ Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Relax.
5. Stimulates creativity: Deep breathing helps clear the mind. Oxygen stimulates brain cells and fosters creativity. Let God create in you a new heart, to renew a right spirit within you. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Relax.
During this time of lock down we have some respite from the usual rush of life. May we use this time to remember to stop and breathe and to be renewed by the Spirit of God.