Don’t Forget to Breathe

A sermon based on 1 John 1:1-2:2 and John 20:19-31 preached on April 12th, 2015.

Happy Easter!

Today is what many in the Church refer to as Low Sunday. Today, there are fewer in attendance than there was last week. We have this idea that Easter is a day. 1 out of 365—the day we give out Easter baskets, have our egg hunts out in the lawn, get our knees dirty in the grass. It’s one out of 2 days of the year when shops like Target are closed.

But we Christians live by a different calendar, and according to our calendar, Easter is far from over. This Sunday is the 2nd Sunday of Easter, and we will celebrate the Good News of the resurrected Christ who lives and reigns among us for a total of 7 weeks. Everyone knows that Lent is 7 weeks long, but how many folks know that the season of Easter lasts just as long? This is the season of adjusting our eyes to new and brighter rays of light. And our eyes take time to adjust.

Easter is the radiant light that cannot be hidden. The great news of Jesus’ resurrection is too big to keep locked up, held down—and it’s too big for just one day. Some things are too loud to keep to ourselves, and the power of God to bring to life what was once dead is the loudest sound the world has ever heard.

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But sometimes it’s the silence that is deafening and the dark that blinds us. That’s where we find the disciples that first Easter evening: all locked-up, surrounded by 4 walls, doors barricaded shut out of fear—a fear that paralyzed them. Their eyes were having a hard time adjusting to the new and bright ray of light that Mary had brought them earlier that day.

I’ve seen the Lord!

She said to them.

Mary’s news didn’t release the disciples. Here they are still in bunker mode.

How ironic is it that the news of the empty tomb, the unleashing of death from its shackles, the astounding story that Mary shared with them of seeing Jesus, the Master Gardener, tilling the land for the new growth that is to come—how ironic is it that his disciples held themselves inside a tomb of their own making, refusing to emerge from it and show themselves to others?

Even a week later, they’re all still cooped-up inside the upper room—their hearts and lives contained, their breathing constricted, languishing shoulder to shoulder in that darkened space where they hoped to stay invisible to all the outside world. This is how the disciples celebrated that first Easter. Discouraged, in the dark, with the wind knocked out of them.

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When I was young, I remember coming downstairs on Saturday mornings to see that my mom was exercising in the living room to one of her Denise Austin workout videos.

I would be a couple feet away in the kitchen fixing some breakfast for myself, and I’d glance up to see Denise Austin in full 80’s-style workout gear—huge aerobic socks, her white Reebox, headband, perm and all.

In each one of her workout videos, Denise Austin, with her upbeat tone of voice, would remind her audience about every 8 seconds,

 Don’t forget to breathe!

As one who never exercised to anyone of Denise Austin’s videos, I would laugh whenever I heard her say that. Who would forget to breathe? Do we really need to be reminded of such things?

As one who works out to my own yoga videos these days, it turns out, Yes, we do in fact need to be reminded to breathe every once in a while.

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Not only is the Sunday after Easter Low Sunday, it’s also Bashing Thomas Day. Poor guy. You just say a couple words of defiance to a few of your friends in some room one day, and from then on, and into eternity, your whole life becomes defined by them.

But we’re not going to say much more about Thomas today, because there’s so much more to this moment than Thomas’ doubting. This is also the moment when the living Jesus—the One who was once dead—comes to each of his disciples and breathes new life into them. He literally breathes on each one of them. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives the disciples a tiny Pentecost, saying to them as he exhales,

Receive the Holy Spirit!

This is Jesus saying to his disciples

Don’t forget to breathe!

This is Jesus coming to them that first Easter evening and sharing with them the same breath that swept over the waters on the first days of creation.

This is their and our Lord and Savior coming to His people—all of us who are held up in the tiny rooms of our own making, and sharing with us the wind that blows wild and free across the enormous landscapes of our world. This is Jesus giving CPR to dead men and women, rescuing them from the lifeless confines of that upper room, expanding our lungs and our lives so that with our breath we can tell the story of the One who lives and breathes in the world—and has for the last 2,000 years.

The presence of resurrected Jesus brings us back to life just as it did for Thomas and his fellow disciples those first two Sundays of Easter. That’s Easter breathing.

The Source of all life gives us our breath back. And on that tiny Pentecost, the heavy weight bearing down on top of their chests—all that fear that constricted their airways and kept their doors shackled up tight—was lifted and unlocked. And Jesus offers them peace. No more fear. Don’t forget to breathe.

Receive the Holy Spirit,

Jesus says. Then this:

If you forgive anyone’s sins, they’re forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.

See, forgiveness, friends, is like respiration itself. And the unwillingness to forgive is like holding our breath. When we refuse to forgive others we’re the ones who suffocate. Isn’t that the truth?We languish in the stale oxygen of something done to us that we haven’t forgiven another for, and when we do such things, all we’re doing is cutting off our own air supply—hurting ourselves.

The ability to forgive—to release ourselves and others from the dark and confining spaces where we and they are locked up—is like freeing our lungs to breathe in fresher air. Easter air.

The breath of Jesus brings peace and the power to forgive, both of which unleash us from the closed-off rooms in our own hearts and lives, and free us to be new people, willing and able to be the “Good-News-presence” that Jesus wants us to be.

Jesus gives us the lungs we need to proclaim that Good News to a world that is suffocating in its own way—that has forgotten how to breathe.

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So, let’s take a deep breath. Go ahead. Take it in.

We are the disciples who wish to see the resurrected Jesus in our midst. We are the ones who long to have our eyes adjusted to the new rays of Easter light that come in through the cracks of all the walls we’ve built up around us. We are the ones who are being freed from all that holds us in place and constricts our airways. Jesus comes into our presence with lungs that breathe out, and skin that we can touch, and He shows himself to us so that we can be freed to believe.

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Notice the last 2 verses of our passage this morning:

Jesus did many other signs, one’s not recorded in this scroll…

There’s always more to the story, there’s always more to say, more to uncover, more to discover, isn’t there? It’s as if John, through this little disclaimer at the end of chapter 20, nudges us, and points beyond himself to all of us and says,

You get to see what’s next!

Because, my friends, Jesus is still appearing. Long past that first Easter, Jesus is the One who’s still at-large, on the loose—the One out there, moving as wild as those first winds that blew over the newly created world.

We’re the ones who get to tell the next part of the Jesus Story. We’re the disciples Jesus walks in on, showing us his hands and his side, urging us to believe, empowering us with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and entrusting us with the choice to forgive or hold out forgiving.

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It’s the risen Christ living among us who is the story-giver. But we’re the story-tellers: the ones invited to breathe in and out this sacred story, to live it or not, to tell it or not, to stay inside these walls and keep it to ourselves or not.

May Christ visit us and gift us with new breath, with lungs and hearts and minds big enough to share what we know with all those around us, because rooms this small can never hold a story as big as this one.

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But as you share your story, there’s just one thing to remember: the Holy Spirit is all around you, so don’t forget to breathe.

Happy Easter!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

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