Breathe on Me
Racing against sunset on the Passover, Joseph of Arimathea, who was secretly a disciple of Jesus and Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus under the cloak of darkness, came and took Jesus’ body as the soldiers took it down from the cross. They wrapped it in linen strips with myrrh and aloes. When the body was bound, head to toe, they placed it in a new tomb that had never been used before.
It helps us understand the story if we imagine what that tomb might have looked like. First century tombs might be compared to mausoleums today. Whole families were buried together in one tomb. They often built tombs in a cave or dug them into a hillside. At the entrance, there were niches or a trough for bodies to be laid for the first year. Then, on the anniversary of the death, there was a second burial of the bones into an ossuary or a pit in the tomb structure or in a small niche in the walls.
There were no other bodies or bones in the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea offered for Jesus’ body, though, because it was a new tomb.
After they laid Jesus’ body in the tomb and left, the sun set and Sabbath began. The whole next day, no one came to the tomb, because it was the Sabbath. Mary, though, was anxious to go. It was customary to go to the tomb every day for the first three days when a loved one died. She couldn’t sleep. Early in the morning, while it was still completely dark, she left the house. When the others awoke, they would know where she had gone and join her there. In the dark, she didn’t see until she was almost to the tomb that the stone had been rolled away.
It had to have been intentional. The authorities had sealed the stone to make sure no one would move it. The stone was the height of a person, it was heavy. It was laid in a track that had been dug in the dirt there at the entrance to the tomb, and even on a well-worn tomb was difficult to roll a stone away from the door. Who had been here? Were they still here?
Mary feared the worst. Had the Temple authorities come and taken away his body to make a further public display of it? They had scourged him with lashes, nailed him to a cross and left him hanging there in the hot sun all day, then they pierced his side. What else would they do to his body?
Or had tomb robbers come? In the first century, it was customary to place personal objects with the body on the niche shelf, and grave robbing was a common crime. Had they desecrated Jesus’ body? Where was it? What have they done to him? All these thoughts ran through her head as she ran to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple.
Together the three ran back to the tomb. The beloved disciple and Simon Peter went in and saw the strangest thing. We can’t really describe it in English – the linen that had bound Jesus’ body was still in its’ folds – like a cocoon that still holds its form after the butterfly escapes – as if Jesus body had dematerialized. The strips that had bound him were just lay there, right where his body had been. The napkin that had covered his head lay where his head would have been. But he was gone.
So, they went home, leaving Mary there weeping. A man, she guessed he was the gardener, came and asked her why she was weeping, if there was someone she was looking for. Still looking at the place where the linens lay, she asked if he had carried Jesus’ body away. The man, standing behind here, breathed only one word. “Mary” and she knew. The Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name, and the sheep know his voice. I can only imagine the relief and love that washed over her. She must have thrown her arms around him with one of those possessive, never going to let you go again embraces because Jesus tells her that she can’t hold onto him. He is not back on earth to stay. He will ascend to God. So, letting go of him, she goes to the disciples to tell them “I have seen the Lord.”
Then that night, the disciples are still locked in together, hiding out. And Jesus appears among them. His message was that they were not to stay locked in together, hiding out. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Just as God, in the garden, had formed man of dust from the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living being, Jesus breathed on the disciples, and they truly began to LIVE. Just as God, in the valley of dry bones, told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, and “the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet…,” the disciples are lifted up out of the deepest valley they had ever known and are on their feet, ready to go where Jesus sends them.
And now, as we celebrate the risen Lord, as we come to his table and receive his body and drink the cup of salvation he has poured out for us, again the breath of life is breathed into us.
God breathes into the dry bones of our lives. God breathes into the bones that have fallen apart in our lives. God breathes into the places in our lives where we have fallen down. And we are lifted up out of the deepest valleys, stood upon our feet to support one another as the Body of Christ, and sent by Jesus to share the good news. This is the Good News we receive – God breathes into us new life – and all we do is receive – receive the breath of God – God’s Holy Spirit. “Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew.” Breathe on me. Breathe on me.