*John 14:15-27; John 20:19-23
In John 14, the Farewell Discourse, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid. Now in John 20 we see the disciples scared for their lives, hiding behind locked doors. In both passages, Jesus offers them peace in the midst of their fear.
And then Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
No mighty winds here. No tongues of fire. Simply this: Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is the comfort that Jesus had promised them before the crucifixion. His presence with them–around them and inside them–forever.
But this, you will notice, is not a warm and snugly kind of comfort. Just as Jesus says that he does not give peace the way the world gives peace, we see here that he also does not give comfort the way the world gives comfort.
Because, here’s the thing: if I were in a situation like that of the disciples–scared and lonely and sad–I would want a Comforter to come with a good security system and a warm blanket and some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. My idea of comfort would be to make sure those doors were locked tight and then snuggle on the couch with my cookies and a good book.
But this is not the kind of comfort Jesus offers. Jesus prefaces the giving of the Spirit by saying, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
The Spirit is a source of comfort, yes. But not comfort for comfort’s sake; comfort as a source of empowerment. The Spirit will not keep the disciples protected inside their locked room, but will fling them out into the world. The Spirit does not give them warm cookies and a good book–it gives them a message to deliver to people who don’t necessarily want to hear it.
The Spirit is, indeed, Jesus’ continuing presence with the disciples–and it turns out that the Spirit can manage to get them in just as much trouble as the embodied Jesus did.
Perhaps you noticed something troubling about Jesus’ words: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Think about what happened when God sent Jesus. From a worldly, I’d-rather-not-die-an-excruciatingly-painful-public-death, perspective, the Father sending Jesus did not turn out so well. And, sure enough, most of the disciples will be executed by authorities when they go out into the world proclaiming the message Jesus gave them.
This is some kind of comfort–this odd, breathy presence of the absent Christ; this sending out into a hostile world.
The Spirit comforts us, yes. But that comfort’s purpose in to empower us to go; to be sent by God the way that Jesus was sent: to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the captives, sight to the blind, release to the oppressed.
Just as Jesus breathed the Spirit onto his disciples behind those locked doors, Jesus offers the Spirit to us today. He offers it as a gift–as a way for us to know his presence even in the midst of his absence; a way for us to participate in God’s holy work of peace and love in the world. The Spirit may not be a calm and comfortable gift; but it is a comforting gift; an empowering gift; a beautiful, life-giving gift. And we are blessed if we receive it.
—This post is excerpted from a sermon. You can read the full sermon text here and listen to the podcast here.