John 20:19-23 Inclusive Text
In the evening on that same day, the first day of the week,
the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were,
for fear of the people.
Jesus came and stood among them and said to them,
‘Peace be with you,’
and showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples were filled with joy when they saw The Risen One,
who said to them again,
‘Peace be with you. As God sent me, so I am sending you.’
After saying this Jesus breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.
For those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’
“Jesus breathed on them” (v22). This verse has me wondering…what did the Risen One’s breath smell like?
Did it smell of springtime and fragrant buds? Or was it otherworldly, some new scent they had never before encountered? Did his breath still carry a trace of the rich spices with which he was anointed for his burial? The gall of the cross? Or was there still something of the tomb which clung to him now, even as he stood before them so wonderfully alive?*
Welcome to Eastertide. Thankfully we have fifty days starting with Easter Sunday to rest in (or wrestle with) the mystery of the Resurrection. The story of the stone being rolled away from the tomb continues with this week’s passage from the Gospel of John. Here Jesus appears in a house locked with fear to speak new words of peace. Imagine Jesus appearing at his own wake, showing the wounds in his hands and side. Through his presence he speaks to God’s truth: death doesn’t win. The humiliation, violation, and torture we bring upon one another cannot stand as the Final Word. Jesus is rewriting his future story, and in so doing inviting us once again to allow ourselves to be released into love.
He so clearly loves those locked in fear in a little room. He feels such compassion and hope for the lot of them… believers, questioners, questioning believers. Sounds like a familiar posse.
Everyone is invited to rest in the good stuff during these great fifty days of Easter. Totally working out your belief system vis-à-vis the bodily resurrection is not a necessary pre-requisite to get in the mood for mystery. (Though it certainly can be fun and engaging conversation!) Easter, similar to other beautiful experiences in life, may be like a butterfly which when pursued continually evades our grasp but sit quietly and she may just alight upon your shoulder.
So what are Easter practices? Are we merely to sit quietly or is there more? Based on the scripture today, taking deep breaths seems to be a foundational Easter practice: inhaling the sweet scent of spring, of rich soil, of freshly growing salad greens, basil and other herbs. Inhaling our days… noticing the smells of the people we spend time with and the places we inhabit: of hospital hallways, of university classrooms, of children when they first wake up. The scent of a candle lighted in prayer; of a new house we have not yet made our own, of the library stacks, or a favorite dog. Where do you live your life? Where do you breathe in this breath of life?
And also, the important second half of the question, where and how do you exhale? In the scripture passage for this week it is clear that inhale and exhale are linked. The pnuema, or breath, of the Risen One, is offered not only to nourish the disciples but to equip them to participate in God’s unfolding work in the world. So as these deep breaths of Easter nourish and center us they also invite us to reflect on how we share the life-giving pneuma with the world.
Sara Miles, in her book Take this Bread, provides one fresh example of sharing life and bread and body in unconventional ways. She leads her congregation to convert the communion table to a weekly distribution center which feeds the dispossessed, the immigrants, and the hungry of their city. Not a program of the church ‘for the poor’, instead the St. Gregory Food Pantry becomes a living Eucharistic community which organizes and feeds the most vulnerable.
Join us tonight at the Semrads (108 S. Rosemont Ave, 6:30pm) to buy a copy of Sara’s book ($11), eat some pizza and crack open the conversation. There are good times to be had this Eastertide and I look forward to enjoying them with all of you.
Peace of the Living Christ be with you this day,
*I am indebted to John K. Stendahl for this reflection in Feasting on the Word (2009)
LOVING THE WORLD BACK TO LIFE
One of the joys of pastoring a church such as Church in the Cliff is how engaged this community is in social investment of various forms. We give money, we organize, we volunteer, we enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally, and we help and love each other.
DART Stations of the Cross
DART Stations of the Cross was a soulful experience on Good Friday. We had about 40 people participate, including a dozen or so from our sister emergent church Journey. We also collected over $200 to go to the Stewpot’s Open Studio program for homeless artists. If you were not able to make it but would still like to participate please join us tonight and/or Sunday and you can purchase remaining devotional card packs for a suggested $5 donation to go to the Stewpot. Tonight we also will be finishing our art project of ‘upcycling’ prayers of longing and desire from Good Friday into a string of prayer flags to be hung throughout the great fifty days of Easter. All are welcome! and congratulations to Scott for overseeing the DART project. He is already dreaming about next year…