Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Breath of Life in Chaos

View of the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light.', and there was light." Genesis 1:1-3

"The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." Genesis 2:7

"The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace." Psalm 29:3-5, 11

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." John 1:1-5

"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together with the doors 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 side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. And again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'" John 20:19-23

As a music teacher of over 20 years, breath is a regular topic of conversation and training. Teaching a student to breath well and use breath effectively affects how well my students can sing or play an instrument. A few years ago I started talking with the Grade 5 students about the connection between the breath of life described in Genesis, and the power we have to use our own voices in life-giving ways. 

And then last week I read John 20:19-23 and I can't stop reading it. I had never noticed before that Jesus breathed on his disciples, his talumidim. Back up to John 20:19. A few days prior the disciples watched as their Rabbi hung on the cross, seemingly dead and defeated. They faced the heart-wrenching reality that in Jesus' time of greatest suffering, they had chosen safety over loyalty. And now they were locked up together in a room, fear-filled and confused. 

Back up even further to Genesis 1:1. In ancient history, water represented chaos. A strong-held belief taught that evil resided in bodies of water. "The Spirit of God was hovering over the [chaos]." And then God says, "Let there be light." Later in Genesis 2 the author describes God's creation of mankind in this way: "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."

Fast forward to Jesus' time on earth. John opens his poetic gospel connecting Jesus, God with us, to the very God who breathed life into Adam at creation. Again, there is confusion in the world. And Jesus, God Himself, comes to earth in the midst of the confusion and offers life-giving light. (John 8:12)

As the disciples sat locked in a room just days after Jesus' crucifixion, Jesus "breaks the cedars" (Psalm 29), if you will, by entering the locked room and standing among the very men who betrayed him. And, according to John, the first words to come out of the voice of God's Son, are "Peace be with you." Peace in the storm. Order in the chaos. God's grace to a group of men who loved the LORD, but were lost in fear and confusion. And after speaking peace a second time, Jesus breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit. The God whose breath transformed Adam into a living being, transformed Jesus' followers with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. [By the way, I also noticed for the first time that Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit to the disciples in that room BEFORE Pentecost.]

I find it striking that in the same locked room where Jesus first appears to his talmidim, he speaks not only of peace but also of forgiveness. 

I am challenged by these texts in many ways, some yet to be uncovered. My soul is encouraged at the reminder that God is bigger than my fear and confusion, and that He steps into our world to offer peace in the midst of it. My heart is humbled as I consider relationships where I have not allowed God's breath of life to guide my thoughts, actions, or words. I feel challenged to understand more of God and His presence in my life, and to live a life that reflects God's breath of life in me. As I grow in faith [relationship with God], will forgiveness be a mark of my life as God's disciple? Will I trust my Rabbi even while I still feel afraid or confused? God speaks to His beloved in the chaos of our hearts and lives, and offers peace--indeed the very breath of life--to us.

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness." 2 Timothy 2:16

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