June 12, 2020
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.”
The Holy Spirit is the oddest member of the Trinity to me. I don’t think I’m alone, because he tends to be a polarizing presence in many Christian circles. For some, the Trinity is better described as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures. For others, salvation is not guaranteed until there is a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit like speaking in tongues. And while I’ve heard lots of people pray to God the Father, and pray to God the Son, rarely do I hear people pray to God the Spirit.
I don’t want to delve too deeply into Trinitarian theology here, but there are some clear observations in these verses. They can bring comfort and confidence to us today in the same way they brought peace to the disciples in that locked room with Jesus. Up until this moment, the disciples experienced God as “outside” themselves. God the Father was in heaven, and Jesus was God on earth. When Jesus died, his power and presence was taken from them. They felt abandoned, afraid, and confused. Now he has returned, but as soon as he appears, Jesus makes it clear that they will be separated again. For, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Then Jesus does something totally unexpected. He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
He was not sending them alone, or apart from the presence of God. Instead, they now carried the presence of God with them into the world. This is confirmed in the next (sometimes controversial) verse where Jesus added that the disciples can forgive sins. Putting aside the myriad of questions verse 23 generates, we can see that Jesus was describing a new reality where God was not outside and apart from the disciples, but was instead a constant presence working in them and through them.
The disciples of Wednesday’s reflection were a motley crew of screw-ups and failures. If we flip ahead a few chapters, the disciples in the opening of the book of Acts are suddenly converting thousands, healing the sick, and confronting the very men who had put Jesus to death! This extraordinary transformation can be traced to John 20:22. The Holy Spirit empowers them to do the very things that Jesus had done. The same is true for you today. Do you live like that is true? Try reflecting on the promise summed up by Paul in Romans 8:11:
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.