On the Gift of the Spirit
April 16, 2023
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
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.
From a fairly early age, I learned that a small package under the Christmas tree could lead to a really big present. A small box, smartly wrapped sometimes contained a note with instructions
to “go look under a bed” or “go look in the backyard” or even “go to the garage.” Even though I was the only child, I was not the only one to receive little notes in small boxes. One memorable Christmas when I was about ten years old, my Grandmother was the one who received a note. The instructions were “go to the hall closet.” I remember following her, so eager I was to see what she would find. She opened the door and saw a big red bow on a hanger; she reached for it and pulled out a full-length mink coat, silver grey in color. My Grandfather urged her to try it on and as she slid her arms into it and gathered the soft coat around her face, I was unexplainably
moved to tears. I could sense that this gift was about so much more than a warm and beautiful coat; this gift was extravagant in and of itself and the sentiment with which it was given was extravagant, too; that was written all across my Grandfather’s face, tears in his eyes, too, as he watched my Grandmother standing there in the hallway, looking like the Queen of England.
With every gift comes some sort of message, don’t you think? Some come with strings attached, some come as an apology, some as appreciation and admiration. Some gifts are liberating and some are burdensome. The story we are given in the scriptures today concerns a gift that could be experienced as both liberating and burdensome. Today we consider the gift of the Holy Spirit and the manner in which it was given in a most intimate and personal nature, through the breath of Jesus Christ.
The Hebrew word for breath is ruach. The Hebrew word for spirit is also ruach. The Latin
word for breath, spirare, is also Latin for spirit. We find the same root word in respiration and in
inspiration. These are not random coincidences; these words connect the very physical process of breathing and living with the subtle and invisible spiritual world of being. These words connect the body and the spirit and identify their dependence, one upon the other. For what is a body without spirit and what is a spirit without a body?
Jesus knew the answer to such questions in a way that we can only imagine, for Jesus experienced life in human form, gave up the human form in death and reappeared…reappeared with a message and with a most precious, most extravagant gift. His message, over and over again, is a message of reassurance and calm, “Peace be with you.” The gift he brings is something he promises before his death. In the book of John, chapter 14 Jesus says, “I have spoken unto you, being present (here) with you, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Undoubtedly, the disciples could not then fully comprehend what this may mean. In our story today, when Jesus appears to the disciples behind locked doors for the first time since his death the disciples are shown where he was wounded. They are astonished, they are out of their depth and in a perfect state to do whatever Christ may ask of them.
Jesus Christ asks but one thing, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Receive this gift from me; it will guide you after I am gone, it will remind you of all I have said and in that sense, receiving the Holy Spirit will liberate you, for you will no longer be confined and defined by your physical reality alone. Where you were born, who you were born to, what you have made of your life up until now, all these distinctions that are so important in the eyes of humankind do not matter in
the sight of God. In the words of the prophet Samuel, “the Lord sees the heart.” Receive the Holy
In receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are more able to see the wounded heart of another when their words offend us. In receiving the Holy Spirit, we are able to look beyond the differences in outward appearance and beyond the differences in personal accomplishments; we are able to look beyond and with that ability we are changed. With new sight we see ourselves and with new sight we see the issues of our times and sometimes it hurts. This gift can be a burden; I dare say it was a burden for Jesus, as well.
In ministering to all people, regardless of their status in society, Jesus made many enemies. In healing the sick, even on the Sabbath, Jesus challenged tradition and threatened to undermine the carefully constructed power structure of his time. This is the legacy Jesus left with his disciples and gifting them with the Holy Spirit enabled them to continue his work, even in the hostile and unreceptive environment in which they found themselves. As followers of Christ we inherit the work that is yet to be done and we, too, have help. Ours is a hostile environment, as well. We have so many distractions to contend with in the modern world. Our awareness that was once focused on family and village now extends around the entire planet.
It’s so easy to lose touch with what the Spirit of God is calling us to… the quiet and difficult healing within ourselves, the forgiving, the asking for forgiveness, the things that need to be said, the things that need to be done, and the actions we need to take to create the world we hope for. Some of the things we have grown to expect are no longer guaranteed…things like a planet that can sustain us, a democracy that reflects the will of the people, and opportunities…real opportunities for people to climb up out of poverty. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is sent, “to remind you of all that I have said to you.” Jesus said to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the
prisoners, free the oppressed, and love one another. The message could not be more clear and we must not forget. The presence of the Holy Spirit is here to remind us. I thank God for the gift of his Spirit that is forever working in us and through us for kindness, for peace, for freedom and justice. May we never yield to anything less than these noble ideals.
In closing, and as we look forward into the season of Eastertide that will take us through the month of May, I am grateful for this time we have to consider how the Christ consciousness began, so long ago, to shape a movement that affects us still today. May we be open, each and every day, to receive the gift of the Spirit. May we be aware of the extravagant love with which it is given. And may we put our love into action, as Jesus asked. So be it. Amen.
Source of Love that we call God, we try to name you although you are nameless; we try to interpret you, even though you are unfathomable. Help us, Holy One, to be at peace with your vastness that can not be named and your message of unconditional love that includes us all, each and every one. For those who are ailing, we pray for comfort. For those facing death, we pray for peace. Through your strength and grace, Lord, given to us through the Holy Spirit, help us to extend ourselves as disciples of your love. Empower us to make choices that consider the
well-being of the earth and the well-being of our brothers and sisters. This I pray, in faithfulness. Amen.