May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable unto thee. O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.
Now I want you all to close your eyes, go ahead, close them for just a moment. Now take a deep breath. Take it in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel it deep within. One more, and this time mean it. Okay, you can open your eyes.
Breath. What an amazing gift. Breathing seems so simple sometimes. In fact, most of the time, we do it without even a conscious thought. I mean, how many times throughout the day do you stop and think. Wow, I am breathing. This is amazing! Probably not very often.
Many of us though, have had moments in our lives where we did realize we were breathing and it was a glorious moment. Like the time you ran a marathon and though you might not make it. Or the day that your breath was heaving and fast and seemed so hard to grasp as you gave birth to your first child. Or the day you watched a loved one take their last breath. Those breaths we remember, but so many go unnoticed. Breathing is so easy, that most of us can do it in our sleep.
Let’s take one more for good measure, shall we?
Who taught you how to breathe? Well that’s sort of a silly question. No one taught you how to breathe, you just breathe. It’s simply innate, a function of our physical body. We know how to breathe simply by breathing.
Breathing is a scientific process by which we take in oxygen, our diaphragm flattens, our abdomen is engaged, the oxygen flows into our blood and through our body, just in time for us to breathe out and let go of carbon dioxide. Scientifically explained, but where did it come from? Where did we get our breath?
Earlier in the service we heard the creation story from the book of Genesis, and in this account from Chapter one, we hear that “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
This should sound very familiar to those of you who have attended a worship service using the prayers from Enriching Our Worship because in that service we celebrate the Holy Eucharist with a prayer that reads, “From before time you made ready the creation. Your Spirit moved over the deep and brought all things into being: sun, moon and stars, Earth, winds and waters, and every living thing.”
Now, in the second creation story, the one found in Genesis, chapter 2, it says, “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
Now, all of this time, we have been talking about our breath as a simple systematic, scientific, physical function, but here is where the Bible throws us through a loop.
As you know, the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew.
The original Hebrew word here for breath, ruach (pronounced Roo-ak) also means spirit and it also means life and wind.
Where we would often distinguish these words, the Bible uses them interchangeably.
Let’s let that sink in for a moment.
Maybe this would be a good time to take another deep breath.
In the Hebrew Scriptures; breath, spirit, life, and wind are the same word. Ruach.
In our reading from Ezekiel, we hear God say that God will give that same breath, that same ruach, to the dry bones and cause them to live.
The dry bones in the valley do not have life in them at first. They are dead, they have no breath and no spirit. But God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, and in doing this “the breath (the ruach) will come into them and they will live.” In this way, the body is a shell, a clay vessel, which God fills with breath, with life, with spirit.
Now, before I leave you in the Old Testament, I want to show you how the words breath and spirit are linked in the same way in the New Testament.
Yesterday, on Good Friday, we are reminded of the story of Christ’s passion and death, and in this narrative, we learn about the breath of Jesus. In Luke’s account, Jesus says, “‘Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.”
The words Spirit and breathed in this verse from Luke, chapter 23, both words, spirit and breath, come from the same Greek word, pneuma. So, we could translate this verse, “‘Father, into your hands, I commend my breath.’ Having said this, he gave up his Spirit.” In this moment, Jesus dies. The concept of breath and spirit and life are all linked in the Greek word pneuma, just as they were in the Hebrew word ruach.
If we stopped there, at the crucifixion, the story would be over. There is no more breath. There is no more life. There is no more spirit.
But the story does not end there. We do not sit in the power of darkness forever, because we are an Easter people.
In the midst of darkness, light breaks forth and we are given a new Spirit, a Holy Spirit, a new life, a new breath, that speaks goodness and love to the world. We turn on our lights and ring our bells and cry out Alleluia!
We use our breath to preach forgiveness and mercy, kindness and compassion, joy and peace. We use our new breath to give new life to the world.
By the new life and new Spirit that we are given in Baptism we take up the call to “Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made.”
In this Easter season, we sing Alleluia with the sure and certain hope that Christ is risen.
In this Easter season, we rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this Easter season, we go forth to live a life inspired by Christ Jesus who rose from the dead, and who showed us that there is life after death, for there is life after breath.
Written by The Rev. Melanie Slane, who currently serves as Assistant Priest at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves, Missouri. She and her husband Chris, also an Assistant Priest at Emmanuel, live in St. Louis with their two year old son, Constantine, and their two month old son, Aristotle. Slane is a 2013 graduate of The Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where she earned a Master in Divinity. Before moving to St. Louis, she served as Assistant Rector at The Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C. Slane also gained experience in asset based community development while serving as a missionary in the Philippines from 2009-2010, where she worked with a group of native women to start a small business in organic jam-making. Her ministry has also taken her to the Turkey, The Navajo Nation, Tanzania, Hong Kong, Israel, and Palestine. She is a graduate of The University of Missouri, with a Bachelors of Science in Business Management; she is a native of St. Louis, Missouri.
Download the sermon for Easter Vigil (A).