Will We Listen?

From John 20:19-23

When he had said this, he breathed on them…

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Justin Mootz
Tacoma, WA | U.S.

This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost. It’s the time when we remember Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit, breathed into the church. It is, in many ways, a continuation of the creation account in Genesis where God breathed life into humanity.

The contrast between that life-giving imagery and what we see before us today is jarring. Recent events are more stark reminders of those whose breath has been taken away or forcibly refused.

George Floyd cried out for breath. Ahmaud Arbery didn’t even have the chance. And the respiratory disease COVID-19 has claimed a very disproportionate share of victims from communities of color.

Our text today is about the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit. And yet, our reality reveals another spirit – the systemic spirit of racism that forcibly denies people of color the right to breathe freely, in every sense of the phrase.

Before breathing his Spirit into the disciples, Jesus showed them his wounds. It’s a reminder that the breath of life comes from the one who was crucified by society. It’s the Crucified One who has the authority to breathe life into us. And it’s the Spirit of the Crucified Risen One that animates us. It’s this One, and no other, who gives us the eyes to see both the beauty of creation and our glorious potential, as well as the individual and communal ugliness we want to deny.

“I can’t breathe” is yet another of the many ways the Crucified One cries out to us, even now. Can we see? Will we listen? Lord have mercy.