A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (5:27-32)
[When the captain and the temple police had brought the apostles out of the temple,] they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
1 Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy temple; *
praise him in the firmament of his power.
2 Praise him for his mighty acts; *
praise him for his excellent greatness.
3 Praise him with the blast of the ram’s-horn; *
praise him with lyre and harp.
4 Praise him with timbrel and dance; *
praise him with strings and pipe.
5 Praise him with resounding cymbals; *
praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath *
praise the Lord. Hallelujah!
A Reading from the Book of Revelation (1:4-8)
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (20:19-31)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH, AND THE MEDITATION IN ALL OF OUR HEARTS, BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT, O LORD! YOU ARE OUR STRENGTH! YOU ARE OUR REDEEMER!
If you know me well at all, you know that music plays an important part in my life. I do not play an instrument, and I sing so low that no one can hear me. (Believe me when I say that you should be glad that I sing so low.) But I do attend classical music concerts—I had tickets for twelve concerts of the Dayton Philharmonic. I have about four hundred CD’s on my I-Pod. I listen to Sirius Radio in the car; I have Pandora on my computer at home and at work. Music is so important. Not only does music speak to the ears, it speaks to our emotion; and for me, as well as many others, it speaks to my soul.
When my son Christopher attended Bowling Green State University, he was in many musical groups including both the Collegiate Chorale (which consisted of mixed voices) and the Men’s Chorus. Both of those vocal groups sang a song—which is on my I-pod—entitled “Breathe on me, Breath of God.” That hymn has been running through my head for the last two weeks while I have worked on today’s sermon. This hymn was written in 1878 by Edward Hatch. It is in the prayer book, page 508; however, I do not read music so I do not know if it is the tune with which I am familiar. The hymn starts:
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.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure.
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
The breath of God is one of the two major themes in today’s gospel reading. The first part of today’s gospel lesson takes place a week after Jesus’s resurrection. The twelve disciples—yes, twelve; Judas was gone, but Matthias had already taken his place—were meeting apparently in the same room where they had met with Jesus for the Last Supper. The twelve were frightened—afraid for their lives. Their leader had just been crucified by the Romans and the leaders of the Sanhedrin. The twelve were afraid; were the Romans and the Jewish leaders coming after them; were they to suffer the same fate as Christ had? “The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” Jesus appears and says to them, “Peace be with you.”
Can you imagine their astonishment—seeing the crucified Christ alive? The disciples saw Jesus’s hands that had been nailed to the cross; He showed them his side where he had been pierced by the sword. Jesus was sure that there was no doubt in their minds as to his being the Christ. It was then that Christ breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The “breathe of God” is mentioned at least in two other places in the Old Testament—first at creation. Father Mike spoke of this last week in one of his sermons—I heard so many, I forget which one. God created man out of a lump of clay, and then He gave his life giving breath to mankind. The breath of God allowed humankind to live. The breath of God is mentioned again in Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones. Ezekiel heard God say, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.” The breath of God gives life to that which does not live.
So, what is Jesus’s breath doing in today’s gospel lesson? These men are already alive—they are living—they do not need for God to give them breath. Jesus is not breathing life into his disciples, but rather, He is breathing life into his church. These twelve, along with a few others, were his church. Jesus was telling his disciples to take their own breath and use it throughout the world to tell those who did not know Christ all about him. He wanted them to use their breath to give God’s breath to the un-churched. The people to whom the disciples would tell about Christ already had life, but the breath of God gave them a different kind of life—a more abundant life nurtured by the love of God, the Creator.
Christ is no longer on earth to convey God’s message to the world. That task is passed on to the twelve disciples. Christ needed the church then, as he needs it today. Jesus had come with a message for all men, and now he was going back to the Father. His message could never be taken to all mankind unless the church carried that message abroad. God sent Jesus forth to spread the message of God’s love for all of us who have breath. The church now becomes Jesus’s voice, his hands, and his feet to carry that very same message throughout the whole world. Jesus is dependent on the church for this, for without the church’s actions God message cannot be spread.
The disciples traveled all over the known world of their day to spread their words of Jesus. Apparently Paul spent a great deal of time in Rome and modern day France; Peter, in Asia Minor and Great Britain; Andrew, in northern Europe to the ancestors of the Angles, the Saxons and the Scots; Simon, in Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, and Britain; James, in Spain and the British Isles; Thomas and Bartholomew, in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and India; John, in France; Matthew, in areas near India. Indeed, they did go to the entire world that they knew because the children of Israel, the lost tribes had gone to all of these places. They used the breath Christ had breathed on them to enlarge his church that the whole world might believe.
Since the time of the disciples, that breathe has gone to other places on earth. Today the life that Jesus breathed into the church is still working. Each of us is still using that life-giving breath to spread the message of Jesus.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells his disciples after he breathed on them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” On first glance, it appears as if Jesus gives his disciples the ability to judge people’s sins and forgive them for their transgressions. But, that is not what is happening here according to the theologian William Barclay. God is the only source of forgiveness; that act of love is His alone—that is God’s prerogative. What Jesus is saying is that the twelve have the ability to carry God’s message of forgiveness to all whom they meet. The same is true of the Church since the time of the disciples. During our confession of sin, we pray telling God that our sins are grievous unto us and we ask Him to pardon us. Father Mike doesn’t forgive our sins; he says, “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins…” The early Church and the modern church have the responsibility of conveying God’s forgiveness to those who are penitent in heart and to warn the impenitent that they are forfeiting the mercy of God if their lives go unchanged. But, God, alone, gives us His gift of forgiveness of sin.
God’s breath continues to live in today’s church. The message of his love that the church spreads by its words and its actions serves as proof of that to the modern world. The church’s words and actions convey that message to a world that so deeply needs to live a life enlivened by the Almighty’s living give breath.
We who are members of God’s One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church convey that message as individuals as we try to live out the message of the Gospel in our daily lives. As we live out that message, we convey it to those we help and those who witness our actions. But something else happens as we live out that message; God’s message of love becomes a deeper part of whom we are. Carrying out that message transports us to a deeper place in our spiritual journey.
The hymn that I mentioned earlier, “Breathe on my, Breath of God,” tells us that in the last two verses.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
Jesus said to his disciples in the room with him that day, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
My blessed brothers and sisters, Jesus was talking about you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Continue to breathe on us, O breath of God!