Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost 2008

He breathed on them and said, "receive the Holy Spirit."
He breathed on them, of course,
because the Hebrew word for "spirit," ruah,
is also the word for breath.
And he breathed on them, of course,
because in the beginning God breathed into Adam
and made him a living being,
and so now Christ breathes into them
the Spirit of his own resurrected life,
overcoming the guilt and fear that kept them in a locked room.
The Spirit poured out on Jesus in his baptism —
the Spirit that Jesus drew in, like drawing breath into his lungs —
he now breathes out upon his disciples
so that they too might draw it in,
so that they too might share in his Spirit.

Some of you have probably hear about Caesar’s last breath,
an example commonly used in Chemistry classrooms
to explain molecular diffusion:
The average human breath,
including the last breath exhaled by the dying Julius Caesar,
contains 1022 molecules of air
and the world as a whole contains 1044 molecules of air.
Presuming a number of things,
such as a relatively even diffusion of air molecules over time,
and by means of a series of calculations
that my brain cannot quite follow,
we find that there is a 98.2% chance
that at least one of the molecules of air in your lungs
came from Caesar’s last breath.
I presume that this also means that there is a 98.2% chance
that at least one of the molecules of air in your lungs
came from that breath
that Christ breathed out upon the disciples
in the upper room —
a 98.2% chance
that you have taken in his breath, his ruah, his Spirit.

How do you like those odds?
They sound pretty good.
There is a 98.2% chance
that at any given moment we have the Spirit of Jesus.

But of course God doesn’t really leave such things to chance;
the Spirit’s work, mysterious as it is,
is not really like the random diffusion of molecules,
and thanks be to God for that.
Thanks be to God that we don’t have to wonder
if we have a molecule of Christ’s breath in our bodies,
because the Spirit of Christ has drawn us into his body.
As Paul reminds us in our second reading,
"in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body."
All of us here today who are baptized
have been drawn into the body of Christ,
and now live in that place where the Holy Spirit dwells,
the Spirit that fills and gives life to Christ’s body.
But there is more to say about this Spirit, this breath of Christ.
Unlike Julius Caesar, Christ never breathed a last breath.
It is not like Christ
breathed the Spirit out on his disciples in the Upper Room
and has been holding his breath for the past 2000 years.
His body continues to breathe the Spirit in and breathe it out,
diffusing that Spirit in the world.

And we, who have been baptized in the one Spirit,
who through baptism have been drawn
into the one body of Christ,
are breathed out with the Spirit;
we are carried by the Spirit out into the world.
The breathing in and breathing out of the Spirit
is the rhythm by which Christ’s body lives.
From the scattered places of the world —
Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia,
the Philippines, the Netherlands, New Orleans,
Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County,
21217, 21210, 21212 —
we are drawn into unity
and we are breathed out in mission to the world.
Each Sunday, we are drawn on the currents of the Spirit
into the one body of Christ,
the body that we receive at this altar,
and each Sunday we depart
to live the life of the Spirit that we have received.
We are drawn from the scattered diversity of our lives
into the unity that Christ’s Eucharist creates,
and from that unity we are sent out into a new sort of diversity,
the diversity of the Spirit’s gifts,
the Spirit who, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said,
"delights in multitude"
and "lives a million lives in every age, . . .
[who] passes like a restless breath from heart to heart
and is the Spirit and life of all the Church."

Because the Spirit delights in multitude,
the holiness that the Spirit creates
is lived out in an uncountable multitude of ways.
There is no one way to be holy.
The prodigal risk of the vowed religious
is not the same as the persistence of the parent;
the courage of the martyr
is not the same as the careful stewardship of the political leader;
the fervor of the recent convert is not the same
as the sometimes exasperated love for the Church
of the cradle Catholic.
There is no one way to be holy,
but there is one Spirit from whom all holiness comes,
and thus our differences build up
rather than tear down Christ’s body.

If in the diversity of our lives
we live out the unity of the one Spirit
from which we drink at this altar,
then perhaps it will be through us
that those whom we meet in our daily lives
will sense, perhaps only faintly,
or perhaps in very dramatic ways,
the presence of Christ’s Spirit,
will feel the breath of Jesus upon their faces,
and will drink in the one Spirit
and join in that multitude in whom the Spirit delights.

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