The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. ‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
This reminds me of summer evening sunlight and a cool breeze. For some reason, the start of this gospel reminds me both of warmth and of refreshment.
The disciples being filled with joy calls to mind not a giddy, sugar-fuelled excitement. Rather, a deep, overwhelming feeling of warmth. That warmth that can break out into tears. That feeling of seeing families reunited. Of seeing someone overcome an immense challenge. Of parents bonding over the laughter of their child. Of someone caring for a stranger because deep-down the need is anything but strange. It’s the embrace of sunlight on the skin that is anything but skin-deep.
But then we also have refreshment. Jesus’s breath forgiving sins. Burdens lifted or better yet, evanesced. Or, as T.S Eliot wrote, “become insubstantial, reduced by a wind, A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog, By this grace dissolved in place.”
This is that clean drink of water. The compliment, the encouragement that makes one forget the hurt before. This is the light touch in conversation that lightens the mood, chasing confusing clouds away. The soft glance: the smile and the eyes: all of which help one walk taller, and straighter. The return of a sense of sure footing, of direction, and of rhythm. This is the bubbly personality that is more eternal than ephemeral. That light breeze at the end of a hot beach day that communicates the personal, inside and behind creation.
Imagine this was how one got to know a Christian, if this was someone’s introduction to Christianity.
Imagine feeling warmer in his or her presence. Imagine a Christian’s face shining on you gracefully like the dawn. And his or her words quenching your thirst, setting you back on your feet, freed of the weight that was pushing you down. Imagine a church that injected music into your life and taught you how to dance throughout the day. One that taught you a language of love and mercy. What would it be like to live in a community of such warmth and such refreshment? Glowing suns of truth and limpid streams of grace.
This is both ultimate seriousness and final levity. The descent into hell and the ascent into heaven. This is the presence of someone who knows me through and through, and loves me anyway. Someone who cannot wait to share this moment with me. Who wants more than anything to see me smile, to hear me laugh, to bask in my warmth and watch me live, like a parent with a child or a husband with a wife.
Yes, Jesus has his wounds. They are the guarantees that he is with me. But it is his warmth and his mercy that are the guarantees that I am with him. Those unlooked for moments of grace even while I am a sinner. Those moments that free me from the gravity of my past for the joyful march into the future. Or again and better yet, turn the wounds of the past into the revelation of God’s nearness and love, that turn even sin into an opportunity to cry out, My Lord and My God!
We do not have to imagine. As we heard in our second reading, this is the triumph of faith. This is the Church. This is life in Christ and the life of the Holy Spirit. For this we are called. For this we are sent. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.
Let’s breathe in and breathe out the Holy Spirit. Let us taste the new creation. Let it become our very flesh. Let us become disciples of joy and ambassadors of forgiveness. May our brothers and sisters learn true peace in our presence. Let this parish be a shelter and a strength in our community. Let us really be the people of God.