It’s been a long, strange road this last month. And it is more of a delight to be here than you can imagine.
For the last week, since I have been well enough to do it, I take several deep breaths throughout the course of the day. Breaths that make you feel like you just got rid of some stale air that has been hanging around in the bottom of your lung for a day or so. And each time I do it that replacement of dead air, which previously just felt good to do, now gives me pause for thanks. I can breathe again! I am alive!
For centuries, if not millenia, people of all kinds, philosophers and theologians, physicians and tent-makers, have, when they’ve had reason to think about it, equated the inhalations and exhalations of their daily living, with the underlying sense of confidence in life, without which their daily living would undistinguishable from the general mass of life.
And because it is distinguishable, because it is so valuable and so beautiful and strange and potential, we’ve called this thing the spirit of God.
In the first Jewish record of such matters, God creates the world by God’s breath. In John’s version of the Easter story, Jesus breathes on the disciples, who gather in fear of the political execution they’ve just witnessed, and he says, “Peace. Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Our breathing, our living, is tied into the activity of God. Jesus’ point is that without it, you’re dead. You can do nothing, paralyzed in this room behind locked doors. Breathe. Breathe again.
I have been reminded these past few weeks that this point is what the gospel continually sets before us as alone worth it. Nothing else compares. The English theologian William Temple put it bluntly: “It is a great mistake to think that God is chiefly interested in religion.” It’s not religion. It’s something more precious.
It is easy on this day, when we make a proclamation that sounds outlandish, to think Easter is all about religion. But if I simply direct your attention to the way you have helped me to breath again, to the kind words and visits, to the extra effort required of you to keep church church, it is clear — what matters is the way we breathe everyday to do our work and to serve each other with a light heart and a kind smile and a word of peace.
In a moment we will call ourselves to worship using familiar and beloved words of a long, long tradition — Christ is risen! Christ is risen in Indeed!
We could as well say, now, “I can breath. I can breath again. I am alive!”