Take a Deep Breath

My Dear Shepherds,

Four years ago, almost every church building in America and beyond was closed and silent on Easter. That week I wrote this to pastors:

We will come to Easter Sunday as reluctant soloists, with only our own voices, without the band or choir, guitar or organ. Now we really must sing by faith, not only our faith in Christ but our faith that our single voices will be joined with countless others “before the throne of God above,” that our solitary wavering alleluias do not echo in our empty room but are heard by our risen Christ in harmony with the “tongues of men and angels” in the vast throne room of the Triune God.

In a way, like the disciples that first Sunday, we had “locked doors for fear” of the pandemic. But the risen Lord came to us, as he did to them. In the struggles, wounds, and heartaches of these four years, the Lord Jesus has not left us alone or helpless. This Sunday remember that the Lord has been with us.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)

His disciples had heard Jesus’ greeting Shalom hundreds of times before, but this was different. Their fear of the authorities vanished. The old Sabbath had passed; a new Sabbath, a Lord’s Day, took its place. And imagine when Jesus showed them his hands and side! They’d seen those ghastly wounds bleeding but now they were healed, not by time or medicine, but by immortality!

Then Jesus said again, “Peace be with you.” This time the words were like a healing, the way he’d made the blind man see or the leper clean. It wasn’t just that the anxieties of that day were gone, but as though the disciples were recreated with shalom in their blood and Sabbath in their genes.

Then Jesus dispatched his disciples into a world whose Sundays are always silent and whose contagion never abates.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-23)

I try to imagine Jesus exhaling like that. Those disciples inhaled the breath of the first immortal man. They didn’t know the full theology of the Holy Spirit that we now read into this scene. They simply inhaled the breath of their Lord who could not die again! No breath was ever sweeter!

Breath is the essential sign of life. “The LORD God … breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Jesus still inhales and exhales. He breathes even now in the rarified atmosphere of glory (although I’m not sure oxygen is involved).

In that locked room, the Son of God, the Second Adam, breathed life into his disciples as though they’d been nothing but clay men till that moment. And that same Breath of God is ours since being born again.

The full significance of that Breath, the Holy Spirit, would come in time—the tongues of fire, gifts, fruit, intercession, his inward presence, and power. That Breath was preparation for the gospel commission Jesus gave them and us, complete with his authority to declare his grace and Breath to the repentant.

All that to say, don’t forget that hard Easter four years ago when we had to sing by ourselves. This Sunday, dress in your Sabbath peace, rejoice to be with your flock, take a deep Breath, and sing!

Be ye glad!

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