Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.
Today is commonly referred to as “Low” Sunday. One school of thought holds that it’s so named because today’s liturgy pales in comparison to the high liturgical feast of Easter celebrated last week. Another school of thought suggests that the name reflects the traditional attendance figures for a day perceived by many to be an anticlimax. They see Easter Day as the noisy, joyful end to Lent and today as just another ordinary, run-of-the-mill Sunday. But anyone who looks at today in that light is flat out wrong. Liturgically speaking today is not the First Sunday after Easter. It is the Second Sunday of Easter. Easter is not an end; it is a beginning, it is the beginning of new life, a re-creation. The Church devotes seven Sundays to exploring the Easter message and its implications for the community of believers. Last week we celebrated the victory of life over death. In the remainder of the Easter season we examine what that victory means for the disciples and for us, what it means for the Easter people.
Today’s Gospel events begin on the Day of the Resurrection, on that very first Easter. Mary Magdalene went early that morning to the tomb and found the stone was rolled away. As she stood weeping outside the tomb, the risen Jesus came to her although she didn’t recognize him until he spoke. Our lesson picks up later that evening and finds the fearful disciples hiding behind closed doors. Jesus came to them in that room and only after he bestowed his peace upon them did they recognize him. He breathed his Holy Spirit upon them and sent them as God had sent him. But eight days later the disciples were back behind closed doors. So Jesus came to them again and again bestowed his peace upon them.
Jesus came to the disciples. He forgave them. He transformed them.
Jesus came to the disciples. In every post-resurrection appearance, Jesus came to the disciples wherever they were, to Mary Magdalene sobbing in the garden, to the disciples cowering behind closed doors. At what was probably the lowest point in their lives, crushed by despair, consumed by grief, and overwhelmed by doubt, Jesus sought them out. Even though they continually failed to recognize him, even though they continued to hide and probably didn’t even deserve a second visit, Jesus came to them again.
And so it is with us. When misery overwhelms hope, when faith dissolves to doubt, when fear replaces courage, when loneliness devours us, God finds us and comes to us wherever we are. We may not recognize him at first but he comes. God comes to us over and over. It may be in the kind deed of a stranger, in words of encouragement from a co-worker, in the embrace of a friend, or even in difficult words of tough love from our family. God comes to us.
Jesus forgave the disciples. He tried many times during his ministry to explain to them the fate that awaited him. He explained but they never really got it. In the end, they deserted and denied him, and even after hearing about the resurrection, they hid behind closed doors, presumably for fear of the Jews. When Jesus found them behind those doors that first evening and again the following week – afraid, but perhaps also embarrassed by their many failures, too confused to believe or reluctant even to hope – when he found them hiding, he didn’t argue with them, he didn’t criticize them. He forgave them. His first words to the disciples on both occasions were “Peace be with you.” This was neither the peace of a casual greeting nor a wish. It was a healing gift, a restoration of their relationship with God; it was new life, Easter life.
And so it is with us. We’re just as human as the disciples and just as likely to hide behind closed doors. We hide because of fear, because of shame over our misdeeds or embarrassment at our failures. There are times when we’re wounded, sorrowful, or afraid, or even worse, have caused another to be so. At times we may be indifferent to the needy or contemptuous of those who are unable to afford a life style like ours. Perhaps we’re inclined to hurt with our words or not provide relief when we have the means to do so. Maybe our faith wavers frequently or even disappears entirely at times. Maybe we’re simply paralyzed by fear of failure. Each of us has our own special set of doors behind which we hide. But no matter how often we slip back behind those doors, God offers us peace, love, and mercy. God offers us the restoration of right relationships, new life, Easter life. God provides a community to enfold us and food to nourish us. God forgives us.
Jesus transformed the disciples. After forgiving them, in an act reminiscent of the original creation, Jesus breathed his spirit into the disciples in an act of new creation. He breathed his spirit into them and sent them out. It may have taken them several tries, but they came out, out from fear, failure, and doubt, out from behind closed doors and into the world. It was not an end, but a beginning. They were no longer disciples but apostles. They were no longer followers but active participants in Jesus’ mission.
And so it is with us. We have received his Holy Spirit and are sent out from behind our individual doors. We are to leave behind our fear, doubt, and embarrassment and begin a new life, a life filled with the hope of the resurrection, an Easter life. We are to become active participants in Jesus’ mission. We are not sent out to preach but to be, to be the stranger who provides a meal to the hungry or lodging to the homeless, to be the co-worker who offers words of encouragement, to be the friend who embraces, and to be the family member who musters the courage to speak words of tough love when necessary. We are sent out to be the people through whom God offers his love and mercy to the world as he offered to us. God transforms us. “We are the Easter people and alleluia is our song.”
Breathe on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly thine,
Till all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine. Amen.