A sermon on John 20:19-31
Read the passage Here
I preached a version of this at Zion Lutheran Church
Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you...,’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'
So, awkward question....when Jesus breathed on the disciples, what did his breath smell like?
I mean, when I wake up from even just a short sleep, my breath is pretty bad. And Jesus had been dead for three days. Did he still have the stench of death on him? (After all, he does still have those scars from the crucifixion.) Was there any hint of blood, from a rather violent death? Or perhaps the musty smell of a tomb?
Or did his breath smell of resurrection: perhaps of Easter lilies, or newborn baby breath, or some melodious scent of heaven we can only imagine? Was the breath of Jesus the scent of Love that triumphs over death?
Or maybe it just smelled like garlic. Food from that part of the world today is certainly full of garlic, and I suspect it was back then too. (The Hebrews complained, when they we're taken out of slavery in Egypt that they don't get to eat leeks and onions in the desert!). After all, this is our Jesus, the human one, who loved to eat with everyone.
(When I attended worship at Luther Place in DC, we had some week when something was wrong with our communion bread. The altar guild ran out to buy more, but the closest store they could find open on a Sunday morning was a middle eastern corner store. We had garlic flatbread for communion- quite a surprise when you didn't know what was coming! I've always wondered since what kind of bread it was, when Jesus fed the 5,000 people.)
Or, did Jesus do what we might have done before we had Colgate: chew in some mint leaves? We know he knew mint, for he says "woe to you who tithe cumin and mint and dill, and reject the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy!" This is our Jesus: the prophet who tore into the religious folks for getting all caught up in the details of our church lives, and told us to start paying attention to the hurting world. He told us to feed people, and fight discrimination, and look for how people are oppressed. Stop worrying about you own religious liberties, and start serving people! Jesus mentioned mint in the very words that got him killed.
Or, did his breath smell like peace? I don't know what peace smells like for you; I suspect that's very individual. Like the meal made for you by the person you love? That special spot away from it all in the woods? The smell of curling up in your couch with pizza and Netflix? But whatever peace smells like, Jesus breathed it on his disciples, in their time of fear.
Did it smell like an ocean wind? Were the disciples beginning to understand that their teacher, their friend, was also the One through Whom the world was created? That the very breath he breathed upon them was the same wind that moved over the face of the deep oceans when the world was created?
Or did the breath of Jesus smell like fire? He's breathing upon them the Holy Spirit, that same Holy Spirit that will soon dance upon their heads as flames in this very room?
Perhaps the breath of Jesus carried hints of all the places it would send them to tell the Good News: the hulls of wooden ships and the dust of the road, the smell of foreign marketplaces? The smell of Ethiopia and Spain, of Germany and Norway, where so many of our ancestors first heard? Did his breath carry the scent of the new world, of early Texas, of this room too, where we now hear the story?
I don't know what Jesus' breath smelled like that day, I that upper room. But I know what it smells like today: your breath and mine. Because that same Spirit that Jesus breathed into the disciples has been breathed into us as well, in our baptisms. The life that moves within us is the breath of God. When you take a breath to speak words of love, it is the Spirit that fills your lungs. When you reach out your hand to feed someone, to do an act of justice, it is Jesus's breath that is filling your body and giving you that strength. When together we breath in song or prayer, the breath of Jesus move among us.
And, it doesn't matter if it smells like coffee, or cigarettes, or pleasantly of mouthwash. It's okay if it smells like someone coming to your food bank for a toothbrush they haven't been able to afford for a while. Because whatever our own human imperfections, they are caught up in the unconditional love of God .
So this week, when you smell your Easter lilies, or some garlic, the Gulf breezes, or the breath of your loved ones, think "breath of God." Speak the words of love, do the justice that the breath of Jesus calls you to. Be filled with the Spirit.