Psalm 150, John 20:19-22
In her inspirational text on ministry in the South Bronx, Lutheran pastor
Heidi Neumark tells of a tree in front of her parsonage that toppled over
one day without any warning. On further examination, Neumark
discovered that the tree had rotted from within, suffering from a type of
arboreal cancer, resulting from the poisonous air of its urban
neighborhood. In pondering her own challenges of finding time for
renewal, refreshment, and healing, Neumark concludes that both she
and the fallen tree needed breathing space.
Today’s passage is about finding that breathing space. It’s Easter
night and the disciples are still overwhelmed by the events of the past
few days. The finality of death has been defeated in resurrection but
they still are fearful that Jesus’ opponents will take revenge. They
huddle in an upper room, perhaps the place of the Last Supper to recover
their bearings for the uncertain future that lies ahead.
Out of nowhere, Jesus appears. Walls and doors can’t confine him.
In his resurrection presence, he breathes on them and proclaims,
“receive the Holy Spirit.” His breath fills them, and they come to life,
physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Now they can breathe again;
now they can take a deep breath, and now they can exhale trusting that
God’s energy and wisdom will guide their steps.
Breath is at the heart of spiritual vitality. Many of us have learned
various breath prayers as ways of centering and grounding our spirits.
One of my spiritual mentors, Allan Armstrong Hunter, taught us a simple
I breathe the spirit deeply in
And blow it gratefully out again.
The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a
similar prayer form:
I feel calm
Where there is breath there is life. And, when our breath is
constricted as it may be, due to an anxiety attack, fear, nervousness, or a
physical ailment, we feel at the mercy of negative forces within and
The resurrection is a form of spiritual CPR. What has died is now
revived. What we fear, we can live with and grow through, knowing
that divine energy and power flow through us. John’s account of Jesus’
breath prayer doesn’t give us forceful winds and tongues of fire like the
Pentecost accounts from Acts 2, but for John this spiritual mouth to
mouth resuscitation represents the coming of the same Holy Spirit, that
gives life and joins us with all creation.
The reading from the Psalms with which we began worship
proclaims, “let everything that breathes praise God.” These are powerful
words on Earth Day Weekend. They proclaim the reality of an energetic
and connecting breath that joins past, present, and future; flora and
fauna; human and non-human animals.
The Psalmists’ poetry proclaims what ecologists have discovered –
the Earth breathes. We humans are part of a great and enveloping lung,
constantly replenishing itself, but also shaped by our acts of earth care or
destruction. We all know how smoking can constrict and darken our
lungs; yet, we too by our unbridled consumption and pollution of the
atmosphere, also darken the lungs of the earth, and then indirectly
poison ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and generations to
We can’t help influencing the environment and climate – the
question is, will our influence be creative or destructive? Will our
impact be minimal or excessive in terms of harm? That is the choice we
– and our leaders make – not just for us, not just for the young children
of our church, but for decades to come.
We all need breathing space. We all need to breathe deeply
refreshing and clean air, and fill our cells and souls with God’s wise
energy. We all need to remember we are not alone – as individuals, as a
nation, or as humans – but are part of great and holy breath, the
manifestation of God’s Spirit, the giver of life, the bringer of hope and
Let us practice resurrection by breathing deeply, feeling our unity,
and then discovering in our daily lives, ways we can contribute as
individuals and citizens to the health of that great breath -this good
Earthly breath – in whom we live and move and have our being.