An Advent Reflection
The theme of the second week of Advent in our parish is “The Promise of the Spirit” from last Sunday’s readings. Today’s advent verse is from John’s account of the appearance of the risen Christ to his followers on Easter evening.
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.” —John 20:21-22
I imagine the hearts of the followers of Jesus, gathered behind those locked doors, were anything but still. The air is rife with fear (“Are the soldiers coming for us, now?”) and confusion (“Why is the tomb empty?”) even before the one they knew was dead and buried came into their midst. His appearance could only have added to the fear and confusion.
But Jesus is the bearer of peace. Where he is, peace abides. The expression “Peace to you” is far more than a wish; it is gift.
I wonder what picture came into John’s mind when he recorded that Jesus breathed on them. Should we imagine him blowing on the crowd, a kind of reverse extinguishing of the candles on a birthday cake? Is this a gentle sigh flowing over the room? Or is this more personal, as in those cultures where standing close enough to share breath is an essential mark of friendship?
I rather like this latter notion of Jesus going through the room and sharing breath with everyone, and I suspect it is closest to the truth of that moment. As the breath of life was breathed into Adam when he was formed from the earth, so the breath of new life, the breath of the resurrection, the breath of the divine, breath that infuses all creation in the age to come, breathes into us in Christ.
And it is not possible for such a breath to do anything else but send us out into the world as agents of God’s grace and life, as God sent Jesus.