It begins with a breath
Text: John 14:15-21

My wife has told me of the moment when, as a small child, she discovered breathing.  (A useful thing for any child!)  Of course, by ‘discovering’ she meant that she became conscious of the fact of it; aware of breathing.  She had been sitting on her mother’s lap, leaning against her mother, and noticed how her mother’s chest kept rising and falling.  So she asked her why she was doing that.  Her mother explained the motion connected with her breathing—the gentle rise and fall with inhaling and exhaling.

By now many of you will already have consciously checked your own breathing.  It’s not something you do frequently, or even regularly.  In fact, many of us will go for days or even weeks without ever consciously paying any attention to our breathing whatsoever, until the day when we run too fast or work too hard or contract an illness and our breathing becomes panting or gasping or wheezing or something else not quite the norm.  We are more likely to notice our lack of breathing or our difficulty in breathing rather than the gentle, steady, silent rhythm that is our living day by day, for a lifetime.

The second of the creation stories in the Bible, in Genesis 2, describes the moment of God giving life to man with the act of breathing.  The lifeless form which he has skilfully moulded out of the dust of the ground, becomes a living being when God breathes into him.
And in Hebrew there are links between the concepts of wind and breath and spirit.  It is God’s breath, God’s Spirit, God’s “life”-given-to-us that makes us living beings; and in more than a purely bio-mechanical sense.

In the Gospel reading for the Sunday following Easter—(you’ll remember the story in which Thomas features prominently)—in that story in John 20 we sometimes rush past the very important ‘breathing’ reference where Jesus appears to his disciples in the locked room, says “Peace be with you”, and then breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  And in fact, in John’s writings in the New Testament, there is no specific Pentecost story—(the one we know is in Luke’s writing).  But Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit, and the significance of the gift of the Spirit is certainly delivered in this instance when, having breathed on them, and having said “Receive the Holy Spirit” he then commissions them, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven”!  [As I just mentioned:  in Luke’s writings the story of the sending of the Holy Spirit is much more elaborate, as we note in Pentecost in a couple of weeks, but even in that story the final result is Peter preaching the forgiveness of sins!]

In John’s Gospel Jesus speaks at length about the Holy Spirit during his time with the disciples at his ‘last supper’; and today’s Gospel comes out of that passage.  Earlier in this chapter Jesus expresses his desire that we should be with him, and he with us.  He makes repeated references to the fact that he and the Father are one.  He encourages us to ‘abide in him’ or ‘remain in him’; and to remember that as he is in the Father, so we are in him, and he in us; and we know him; and we are loved by him and live in that love.  From half a dozen different angles Jesus wants to assure us of the way in which our lives are a kind of organic union with him; his living is our living.  And that the Holy Spirit is his presence not only with us, but in us.

And so we have the living presence of the risen Jesus, God’s gift of new life, in the concept of ‘breath’; we have Jesus ‘breathing’ his Spirit into us; Jesus breathing into us:  the constant rhythm that marks every moment of our living…

and it is, most of the time, totally unnoticed by us!

Good!  It’s not necessarily a bad thing—that we don’t notice it!  One of the key gifts of God’s grace is that we live in it without worrying about it!  Sometimes we do notice, we give thanks, we worship God for the gift!  In our day to day activity we want to live, in an authentic way, the gift given to us; we want to follow God’s plans, obey God’s will, serve God’s purposes.  That is what our life is for. 

But a life liven in God’s grace is not “something out there” that we have to constantly consciously strive for in the sense of ‘getting it’, or ‘achieving it’.

Take the first line of today’s Gospel lesson:  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  It is easy enough to read or hear that and think, “Ah yes!  Here’s the catch!  Here’s the test I have to pass to be really sure of God’s love for me:  I have to love him back and I prove that by getting all of the commandments right!  Aargh!”

Stop!  Take a deep breath!  Jesus says, “Realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” 

“Peace be with you!” Jesus said, and then breathed his Spirit on his disciples.

In the coming weeks we will celebrate the dynamic Spirit who with the roar of a rushing wind, and flames of fire, ignites a fearful but joyful young Christian church into a wave of missionary zeal that sweeps across Asia and Africa and Europe, all within months of the Easter resurrection.  People from every known nation will hear the Gospel, will confess their sins, will be baptized, will go home and tell others.  The disciples and apostles will risk imprisonment and shipwreck and persecutions and executions to tell others of God’s love.  They will adapt a radically new approach to living in community, sharing their wealth, looking after the needs of those who are at risk in their society.  The scale of the ‘movement’, and the intense ‘dynamic’ of the early church is hard for us to imagine sometimes; but the New Testament stories give us plenty to recognize and celebrate the Spirit of the risen Christ in and with his people.

But it begins with a breath.  Every life begins with the life-giving breath of God.  You all know well that the Spirit also sometimes speaks to his greatest prophets in the still, small voice.  “I am” the Spirit says to Moses.  “Be still and know that I am God” the Spirit says to Elijah.  “I am in you and you are in me” the Spirit says to the disciples.  In the rush of service, or in the rest of silence, the same Spirit fills us with God’s presence, God’s grace, God’s life in us.

The Spirit of God’s grace is like breath—it is simply there, always, in every moment, waking or sleeping, in every activity and every inactivity—God’s grace for you, the living Christ with you.

Take a deep breath and know the presence of God’s life for you, and in you.

In a psalm by David, Psalm 131, he says, “I am content and at peace.  As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arm, so my heart is quiet within me.”