The Breath of Forgiveness – Quasimodogeneti – John 20:19-31

07. April 2013
John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

In the beginning God breathed. His ruach hovered over over the face of the deep. And then God said. Breathing and speaking. What hovered over the elements of Creation? God’s Spirit which is His breath speaking. Since God’s Spirit is truth, His speaking is truth. When He breathes, His Spirit is sent. When God speaks, truth is uttered. Therefore, when God said, “let there be,” there was and is. Without God’s Spirit speaking, nothing would be that is. Without His divine breath, all die.

Breathing is essential to life. Without breath, all creatures die. Plants must breathe in carbon dioxide or their life is strangled. Even fish inhale through gills, breathing oxygen from rich waters. If those waters become polluted or lack oxygen, the fish cannot breathe and die. No different for mankind. Without the breath of life, we are lifeless lumps of clay. Without breathing, we die and decay.

At the cross, the final words Jesus spoke were “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. For God, Word, Spirit, and life go together. When God speaks, there He breathes. Where God breathes, there is life. Thus, at the cross, the Word was silenced. The Spirit departed. And the breath of life ceased. This was shown by the earthquake, the darkness, and the lifeless corpse of the Son of God. The breath of God left the World.

This is why the disciples hid themselves on Easter evening behind locked doors. The Life had died and so their hope with Him. His exhale would no longer be heard. They feared their death at the hands of the Jews as their Lord and master was just crucified at their hands. The breath of life had departed. Without this voice, their hope for life was gone. The hope for humanity was dead. All creation was doomed to destruction.

We don’t always think about our condition this way. Violation God’s holy commands eternally separates us from God and His life-giving breath. Apart from the breath of God, His Spirit, His Word, we are dead in trespasses, condemned to become inanimate dust and food for worms. As we keep our sin to ourselves, refuse to acknowledge sin as wrong, or even downplay the seriousness of this corruption, we are doomed to death. As a matter of fact, we’re dead already. Anyone, innocent though he may seem, is dead to God in trespasses even though he may breathe now.

What can dead people do about their condition? Nothing. They are like the bones Ezekiel saw. Dry, dead bones. There is no hope, no future, and no possibility of self improvement. We might as well bury ourselves like the disciples in the tomb with locked doors—scared of our enemies—terrified of our sin—fearful of death—mortified by God’s Holy Law. God doesn’t soft pedal our condition. We are Lazarus buried and rotting.

But Good Friday could not remain but continued in the a breathless sleep of Holy Saturday. Then the Holy Week of death ceased. The old passed away and the new has come. After Jesus rested from His Holy Week labors, he breathed in again and rose. And with His breathing in also came His breathing out. He breathed out upon Mary Magdalene, comforting her with her own name. He breathed out the Scriptures, opening them to the two disciples on the way to Emmaeus. He breathed, He revealed Himself in the breaking of the bread, and they believed.

The Psalmist said: “When you hide your face, [all creatures] are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:29-30).

There is nothing more terrifying than to think that God has stopped speaking. Without His breath, we die and return to dust. But with the Spirit of God, we are recreated and renewed. This is why the first thing Jesus did when appearing to His disciples is speak to them. But He did not speak any Word but the particular: “Peace be with you.” God breathes upon you the same peace by saying “your sins are forgiven.”

How does life and hope come from such simple words: “you are forgiven”? Christ took all your sin into Himself at the cross. He buried it forever in the new tomb of the garden. But because Christ is risen, death is defeated. Therefore you who are in Christ will not die. Your sins are removed and sin’s wage is removed forever. This Word takes away your sin which is the cause of death. Where this forgiveness is proclaimed, there is the Holy Spirit breathing life into dead things.This Word is His breath and therefore gives life. Where there is forgiveness there is peace in the promise of life everlasting.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63-64). Therefore, Jesus breathed on His disciples—His pastors—His church and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” God wants you to hear the preaching of His Word, thereby also receiving His Holy Spirit and the breath of life in the forgiveness of sins. The call to repentance and the proclamation of forgiveness of sins are the means that the Holy Spirit, through the Word, uses to bring people from death to life. God wants you to know your condition not for to despair but to receive His salvation.

This breathy Word is not merely a generic announcement of forgiveness. It does what it says. When you hear those words, “I forgive your sins” they actually deliver Christ’s forgiveness to you. And where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation. Where the forgiveness is spoken, the Holy Spirit is given. The Holy Spirit is breathed out upon you when your pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

St. Thomas wanted more than words spoken. He did not believe that the speaking of His fellow disciples “We have seen the Lord” was the breath of God the Holy Spirit. He resisted the Word of testimony. And so he made demands to touch and see the risen body of Christ. On the octave of the first Easter, they were gathered together again and Jesus entered their locked tomb and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Despite Thomas’s unbelief, the Lord came to him to give him the very same life-giving breath.

“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and thrust it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Seeing, though, is not believing. To believe to to know without seeing. Believing only comes from the voice of God, the Holy Spirit, breathing His Holy Word into your ears. You cannot feel forgiven. You do not see Christ’s wounded hands and side. You believe you are forgiven, because the Spirit of Jesus has given you faith, hope, and life through His Word. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Yet, like Thomas, Jesus helps your unbelief by combining His Word with earthly, tangible means. When you hear that your sins are forgiven, you are plunged again into your baptismal waters where sin was washed away and death drowned. There the Lord touched you with his holy name, placing it on your forehead and heart, thereby naming you as sons of God though faith in Christ. As coheirs with Him, you were declared righteous, all sin cleansed, and given the Holy Spirit for faith.

So also in the Holy Communion: “Peace be with you” comes after the words “given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.” After you eat and drink the body and blood and are thereby forgiven, Christ’s Spirit proclaims “The peace of God which passes all understanding… [and] Depart in + peace.” Christ thrusts His own body into your mouth with the words: “given for you!” Forgiveness and peace flows from the chalice into your mouth, just as it flowed from his pierced side at the cross.

When you hear the pastor speak, Christ himself is forgiving sin and breathing forth His Spirit upon you to revive your faith and renew you in Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sin. Receiving forgiveness is the reason we gather. “The Spirit of God has made [you], and the breath of the Almighty gives [you] life” (Job 33:4). Your faith desires to have sin exposed by the Law and forgiven by the Gospel. Your faith desires the breath of God, the ruach, the Holy Spirit to bring you to life again as a redeemed saint and child of God. “Peace be with you.” Your sin is forgiven.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana