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19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’John 20:19-23
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.Acts 2:1-13
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound, the crowd gathered and was bewildered because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13 But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Buddhist Monk, Tich Nhat Hanh writes,
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”Tich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
While Buddhist, Hanh offers in his writings the idea of connecting the holistic value of creation through the smallest manner of mindfulness. We are inherently connected to those from which we draw our strength. Within Hanh’s Buddhist tradition, this is very much connected to a philosophical consciousness. However, as Christians, this does not exempt us from being able to pull the knowledge and connect it to our understanding of the divine.
For Christians, this connection occurs through our understanding of the nature of the divine in the triune God.
We will look at what the Trinity means in our faith next Sunday, but for today, we begin this look into the present nature of God by celebrating and diving into the day of Pentecost.
What is Pentecost?
Pentecost means the fiftieth. It is observed on the 50th day after Easter. 10 days ago was the observation, in many traditions, of Jesus’ ascension to heaven. We often look at Pentecost as the birth of the church. In the events of Acts 2, we see the spark of a movement, that continues into our modern-day understanding of the Christian community.
However, in our 2000+ years of growth, this early body of persons was seemingly left alone when Jesus ascended. While we can look back and know they truly were not, we have to imagine the sentiment as the resurrected Jesus ascends to heaven.
In his ascension, he leaves behind a people who would most assuredly be confused as to how they move forward together as a community. However, before Jesus leaves his disciples and ascends, he offers a gift to them. This gift for the disciples is then fulfilled for the rest of the body on the Day of Pentecost.
Breath becomes a very vital connection as we look at the nature of the Spirit in our lives, as we continue the mission and ministry begun in Jesus Christ.
Many of you may want the loudness, cacophony, and seeming chaos of the day, but for me, there is a lot of reflection that can be dissected when we look at the context of these two stories. There is a lot to be said of the Spirit’s presence among the people of Christ, and what it means for how they respond. The connection for this though does come from the “noise” that the author of Acts offers in the story. However, it is not the decibel level that calls my attention, it is more the act of air moving, in a holy way.
Dive Into the Word
Lets’s focus on two key verses for a moment:
“When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”John 20:22
“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”Acts 2:2
Learning from the Hebrew Scriptures
Notice the two words I emphasized, breathed and wind. Now both of these are different words (even in Greek), but to me, there is a connection between breath and wind. It begins in the first creation story in Genesis 1;
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”Genesis 1:1-2
This word, “wind,” becomes foundational not just for the Jewish people as their mythology around creation develops into their faith, but it also becomes a foundational part of our faith as Christians. This word, “wind,” encapsulates within it more than just that simple breeze we may feel walking to our cars. It is more than the big gusts that swell as a thunderstorm is approaching.
Many biblical translators and theologians often look at “wind” in this passage and see the variety of translations that could come from this word. The Hebrew word there is ruach and it can be translated as wind, breath, or spirit.
Now the words I am pointing towards in John and Acts are completely different Greek words, that separately mean what they are translated into. However, their connection in both of these stories calls us to dive deeper into the spiritual connection that both of these stories hold for us, and to me, it drives home this idea of the nature of breath and the breath of God.
In connection with these seemingly innocuous movements of air, the Spirit of the Lord does wonderful and amazing things, not just in a moment but over the course of time. There is a reason breath and wind are at the foundation of creation, and they are used in both of these instances as descriptions for the presence of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit
The connection is the Spirit, pneuma in Greek and ruach in Hebrew. The Holy Spirit in both of these scriptures is the person of God that we encounter in the breath and the wind. It is in Christ’s breath that the Spirit is offered to the disciples present with him. Then on the day of Pentecost, it is the “rush of a violent wind” that is the sign of the Spirit’s presence among the followers of Christ.
The breath of God was not only present over the chaos and formlessness of creation but as we look further into scripture and see how the second creation story unfolds we see how the breath of God is also present within our very spirits as humans.
Genesis 2:7 says,
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”Genesis 2:7
That word for breath is later translated as the same Greek word the John passage we read today uses. Maybe Tich Nhat Hanh has a point…Maybe there is this connection between breath and consciousness. As a Christian, I believe that breath is something that connects us to the divine.
To receive the Spirit is to receive the very breath of God within our lungs. It is something we are born with, and it is something we live into as we unpack God’s nature and presence in our life. It is something that as we recognize God’s grace, become justified in it, and become sanctified through the continued work of the Spirit it grows every more.
The flame of the Spirit within our hearts grows, it becomes impossible to ignore, and it becomes its source of life to fill others. It all starts with a breath. The simplicity of a breath. Take a breath real quick… Breathe in the Spirit, be filled with her, and then allow that same grace and Spirit to flow forth as you breathe out and then in again to be filled once again.
This is the basis of our life, and it is the driving force of how we have life. Without breath our lungs do not get the oxygen it needs, it doesn’t filter into our blood, and it does not replenish the vital organs that need that oxygen. Yes, water is essential, but how long can you go without water, versus how long without breathing?
When we read that Jesus “breathed on the disciples,” he was offering them something special. He was offering them something beyond the mere presence of another human being on this earth. Jesus knew his time was brief and so he offered them something beyond time. He showed them something that would outlast even the physical. The breath of the Spirit imparted upon them, would empower many beyond the disciples to be moved to extraordinary action.
Jesus, in breathing, offers the one who will be with them always, though they are already there. We have two different perspectives of the Spirit at play. We have the violent wind, and then we have the breath. It was probably just a simple breath out, nothing extraordinary, and nothing that would move mountains and earth. However, in both the Spirit is experienced.
It matters not how the Spirit was received, but instead that it was received. The thing is both are done to remind us of the always-present manner of the Spirit. Jesus breaths, the wind blows through. Both things are often taken for granted unless there is an abundant presence.
Breath and Wind
- Think about how often you think about your breath.
- How often do you pay attention to the wind?
It’s not that they aren’t there, or you NEVER think about them. However, it is only when it is a big gust or there is a storm coming or we have intentionally stopped to look that we notice the wind. In a similar vein, it is only when we are having difficulty or we have stopped for an intentional breathing practice that we notice our breath.
Other than that both of these things are aspects of life that often are not conscious thoughts. We get those moments where both of these aspects of life mean something impactful to us, but for the most part, they are reflexive parts of us and creation…much like the Spirit.
The simple breath, and the pleasant wind, both there and present, both remind us of God’s presence.
We celebrate the joyous coming of the Spirit on Pentecost!!!
However, do we neglect the role of the Spirit throughout the unknown parts of our lives?
We contemplate the Spirit’s presence and we forget that in Christ the Spirit is wholly embedded within us. Jesus sends the disciples with the Spirit, he sends them out filled with this breath of new life, and as we gather the same happens for us. Do not neglect the nature of the Spirit, because it is in the Spirit that the rest of this story rings true to us.
It is in the power of the Spirit that the next part of each of these stories is fulfilled. In the story of John, we are invited to consider the power of forgiveness in recognition of the Spirit, and in Acts, if we continue through the rest of chapter 2 we are invited to consider the Spirit’s movement in gathering us as a community.