Acts 5:12-16 | Ps 118 | Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 | Jn 20:19-31
Pause for a moment and pay attention to your breath.
Inhale, exhale. Breath in, breath out.
Our bodies make this movement tens of thousands of times each day. Oxygen comes in and carbon dioxide goes out. For those with healthy lungs, breathing tends to happen in the background. We go about our lives—working, playing, resting—and rarely think twice about the rise and fall of our chests. Our bodies know what we need. God created them that way. God breathed the breath of life into Adam; and from there, the human body adapted a sacred rhythm.
A greater awareness of breath—as a part of a physical act and as a metaphor—emerges in today’s Easter gospel. We first encounter the disciples huddled together in fear. It’s easy to picture their breath growing shallow, a natural reaction in the face of fear. Their Lord and friend died days earlier. They saw Jesus nailed to the cross. Those who didn’t abandon him heard him cry out in agony. They watched as he breathed his last—or so they thought. Now Jesus’ body is missing. They have no idea what will happen next. The disciples inhale great trauma during these early Easter days. Their bodies take in tensions of grief and anxiety.
Then, Jesus appears. Bearing the marks of the crucifixion on his hands and his side, he stands alongside the disciples. He knows what they need and offers it freely: “Peace be with you.” What can the disciples do but rejoice? Their Lord and friend, who days ago lay dead in a tomb, now stands alive in their midst. Imagine the disciples exhaling from the depths of their diaphragms at the sight of Jesus. Imagine the pace that comes from releasing all that pent-up fear, anxiety, and trauma.
We're quite familiar with the story: one of the disciples, Thomas, isn’t with the others when Jesus first returns. It’s easy to picture his breath growing shorter when he receives the startling news from his confreres: “We have seen the Lord.” Disbelief does that to the body. Now, he’s supposed to believe that this dead man lives? Like his fellow disciples, Thomas inhaled significant trauma during the suffering and death of Jesus. He also takes in the added strain now of missing out on a major group experience.
Then, Jesus appears. Again, he stands in their midst and offers peace. He knows what Thomas needs and offers it freely: “Put your finger here and see my hands and bring your hand and put it into my side.” Immediately, Thomas believes. Imagine his exhale when he realizes the testimony is true: the one who stands before him is indeed, “his Lord and his God!” Imagine the peace that comes from releasing all that pent-up uncertainty and trauma.
The sacred rhythm continues with Jesus himself. The passion narrative details his final moments on the cross. His breath grows shallow. Eventually, it stops. Jesus inhales such pain during his final days: the betrayal of trusted friends, the loneliness of his calling, the agony of an excruciating death. Jesus takes in all the suffering of the world.
Then, he releases it. He breathes again. Resurrected from the dead, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. He exhales the breath of life, the certainty of hope, and the power of God’s Spirit upon the whole world.
In doing so, Jesus ensures (without skipping a beat) that this sacred rhythm continues for all eternity.