Near the end of John’s Gospel, on the evening of the very first Easter, Jesus said to His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And He breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)
Already on that first Easter, Jesus sent out His disciples. But it’s a little unclear whether the “disciples” John mentions were only 10 of the 12 apostles, or whether there were other people there that evening. (We get to 10 because Judas the betrayer had gone off and committed suicide by this point and because for some un-named reason Thomas was absent.) We can think more expansively because the Gospel writers sometimes use word “disciple” to designate a larger group of those who followed Jesus. Just the chapter before this one, for example, St. John writes that Joseph of Arimathea “was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.” So I believe that when Jesus breathed His holy breath on the disciples, He was giving the Holy Spirit to more than just the special close-in group of apostles.
Back in 2017 a man named Sam Kean wrote a book called “Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us.” I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read a little about it. The title comes from a thought experiment. Kean asked himself what are the chances that the molecules in Julius Caesar’s last breath — he died in 44 BC — are currently in your lungs, after having circulated throughout the atmosphere for centuries? With some estimates and calculations, along with his knowledge of physics, he figured out that there are likely 1 or 2 molecules of oxygen from Caesar’s last breath entering your lungs each time you breathe. Interesting, maybe, but so what?
Well, how about this? Julius Caesar died in 44 BC and his last breath on the Ides of March was one single exhalation. Jesus was standing among his disciples in about AD 33 and consciously breathed 10 or more than 10 times so that each one there received the Holy Spirit. So even if Sam Kean’s calculations about Caesar are off a little, if looks to me that it is even more likely that every time you and I breathe today we are inhaling oxygen atoms that Jesus exhaled when he breathed on his disciples and told them “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Let me say that again. My pious conjecture, my guess, is that every time we breathe in, we are inhaling some of the same oxygen atoms that Jesus breathed on his disciples. In other words, I am saying that his breath – his Spirit – is our breath – is our spirit.
I am saying that the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, is physically in you. Now.
All of us who are disciples of the Lord Jesus, all of us who are baptized with the Baptism he gave the Church, all of us who receive the body and blood of Jesus in communion at the altar, all of us who confess our sins and hear the announcement of our forgiveness, each and every one of us has been given the Holy Spirit. Each and every one of us is sent out in the same way that the heavenly Father sent out Jesus. Each and every one of us is on a mission from God.
By God’s grace we can each recognize that the Holy Spirit is in us. By God’s grace we can live into and inhabit that precious truth. By God’s grace, I say, we can each begin and continue to grasp our individual vocations, our particular callings as 21st century disciples of Jesus.
The Scriptures give us lists of specifications for building the Kingdom of God, and we are all called and sent out to build it. Overseas; here in our own hometown; through the Internet; in face-to-face conversation; at work; in school; around the dining room table; while we drive; wherever we are and whatever we are doing, you and I and every Christian around the globe are on our own mission from the Lord to bring good news, to heal, and to free.
Now, unfortunately perhaps, I can’t tell you exactly what your God-given mission is or how you are meant to carry it out. Those details are for each of us to discern with the Lord in prayer. But the fact that we are each sent on mission seems pretty settled.
You might be married. You might not be. You might be a parent, but maybe not. You certainly were a child, and may still have parents (perhaps aging ones who need your care). Maybe you answer a call to care for people in some volunteer capacity. Maybe you are being called to full-time church work, though most people aren’t. Maybe you’re in a profession. Maybe you cobble together low wage jobs. You could be retired from the working world. Or you could still be a student. Whatever your station in life, there is a way God can be actively restoring and redeeming the world through you. Each of us preaches in various ways that are suitable to our station in life, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
Every Christian preaches in word and deed so that others can hear. They hear, which makes it possible for them to believe. They believe so they can call on the name of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
But it all starts with you being sent out as God’s people on whom Jesus breathed His Spirit.