Breath and Spirit
Let’s review the story. On the day of the resurrection, the risen Jesus appeared to ten of the disciples. (Judas had already hanged himself and Thomas was somewhere else.)
He showed them his hands and his side, and then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In other words, he inspired them. Let me explain.
The word “inspire” derives from Latin, and its Latin roots means “to breathe in.” Spirit and breath come from the same root in Latin, and also in the biblical languages of Greek (pneuma) and Hebrew (ruach). In the ancient world, to live is to have a spirit, and the key sign of spirit is breath.
To put it another way, to ask if someone is alive, you could say, “Is he still breathing?” We might do the same thing today.
So it is no surprise that the Bible connects the idea of the Holy Spirit with the image of God’s breath. To be in a personal relationship with Jesus means to inhale the Spirit that Jesus, together with the Father, breathes into us.
By breathing the Holy Spirit into us, Jesus is giving us a life that we could not have without him. It’s like spiritual mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
We have heard the precursor to this story before, so let’s turn to it to illustrate the point. It’s the story of God’s creation of Adam.
In Chapter Two of Genesis, we find God making mud sculptures. More specifically, God forms the image of a man from the earth, from the dirt.
“Adam” is not so much a name as it is a description. It means “of the earth” or “of the dirt.” Or maybe better, it means “Dirtman.” At this stage, Dirtman is nothing but that, a well-formed mud pie. He is lifeless. You would not expect him to move or to speak.
And then God breathes his spirit into him. The text says, “[He] breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7)
God had formed an intricately detailed mud sculpture, knelt down, placed his lips upon Dirtman’s lips (I know, it says nostrils, but work with me here), and breathed life into him.
Without God’s breath, he is just a lump of dirt. When God breathes into him, he is alive. He is Adam. Adam’s first act is to exhale the breath that God himself has breathed into him.
And this is how we are forever designed, to exhale the breath that God himself breathes into us, to draw our very life from an utter dependence upon him.
This is part two of a sermon preached on April 15 (2 Easter), 2012, at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Shreveport. You can access the audio of the entire sermon at this link. Part Three follows in the next post.