And do you like it when someone breathes on you? No, of course you don't. And you know why too. Their breath. It stinks. Even when they've disguised the smell with mint or some such. The fact is that fallen human breath isn't much of an improvement on dog breath. It has the tinge of corruption about it. It smells like it comes from an organism that is decomposing. And of course, it does. In all cases but one.
And so when Jesus that blessed first Easter came and stood among His disciples and breathed upon them, it was like something they'd never experienced before. His breath was like the spring breeze, only sweeter. It was the smell of life, the sweet scent of eternity was upon it, and so, of course, it was alive with the Holy Spirit, the Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ.
"Receive the Holy Spirit" our Lord said, as His breath was breathed out on them one after the other. And they inhaled the breath of a Man who would never die again, in whom there was no corruption, flesh that was truly our flesh (they could still see the marks from the nails and spear!) and yet flesh totally unlike any flesh they had encountered before. In that flesh, He appeared out of nowhere - on the inside of their locked doors. In that flesh, He would just as suddenly vanish. And yet it was real, honest-to-goodness human flesh and blood He bore - and yet the breath! So sweet and so alive! A very wise man once said: "We do not yet know what it is to be a full human being; He alone knows; He alone is."
Breath of the Living Lord, air of the resurrection, sweet breeze from the Age that is to come, the fragrance of undying love, it blows on the disciples. And not just to give them tingles and make their hair stand on end. It blows with Words, with a commission. "As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
The Risen One sends out an embassy of forgiveness. Puts it on the very lips of His disciples. A word of peace that He sends them to speak to people huddling in the darkness in fear. A word of pardon for their betrayals. A word of grace for their ingratitude. A word of life for their embrace of death. A word alive with the Holy Spirit, a word that carries with it the sweet scent of incorruption, of the life of the Age that is to come.
He sends them "as the Father sent" Him. He knows what will become of them. The path of suffering awaited them all; and all but one in that room that day would also follow Him into martyrdom. No big deal when you've had breathed on you Words of life floating on the air of incorruption. You know then that as He lives, you also will live.
Those who reject the words they bring, the embassy of forgiveness, those who cling instead to the stale, dead odor of corruption and death that permeates this age, for them forgiveness is withheld. But for those who accept the words they bring, the embassy of forgiveness, turning from the subtle all-pervading stench of death and breathing deeply His breath of life, for them, the words are words of forgiveness as sure and certain in heaven as on earth.
And the point is that He went and brought this word of forgiveness to them behind their locked doors and in their fears. He came and showed them His body risen, His scars glorified, His life eternal. He said to them: "Peace." Now, as the Father sent me. Sent me not just into the flesh, but sent me to you now where you were hiding in your fear, so I send you to them. To those who are hiding in fear. Adam and Eve lurking behind the trees of the garden, wearing their pitiful fig leaves. To those who are hiding in the fear of their sin - thinking that there's no hope for them, they've just done too much, and they are too awful to be forgiven - to them He sends His sent ones with a message of peace.
Look at the wounds! His sent ones cry. They are for you. There is no sin of yours that He did not answer for upon His cross. Not one. And His risen body shows forever that the sacrifice He once offered was totally pleasing and acceptable to God the Father, who raised Him from the dead. "He was put to death for our sins, but raised again for our justification!"
Look at the wounds! His sent ones cry. They proclaim to you the eternal love that was in the heart of God for you before the ages began. He was willing to embrace your sin and your death in order to swallow them up with His mercy and His life.
And that you might not be in doubt at all, He sends His sent ones forth with a word of forgiveness that is targeted. Not just a general proclamation that there is such a forgiveness, but a personal word spoken personally to sinners who hide in the dark. Even to Thomases who pay the penalty for missing Sunday Church and suffer the weakening of their faith. Just as the Risen One came to Him again in the assembly a week later and spoke a very personal word directly to him moving him from doubt to the bold confession: "My Lord and my God!" - even so He continues to meet His doubting disciples exactly where they are, in all their fear and uncertainties. He still breathes on them a word of forgiveness that carries the Holy Spirit who gives and strengthens faith and enables the confession: "My Lord and my God."
I speak, of course, of the joys of the private absolution. Where Jesus comes behind YOUR locked doors, stands in front of your fear, and brings you a word of forgiveness and life that is anchored in His wounds, guaranteed by His risen body and alive with the undying breath of His Spirit. A word that breaks the shackles of the sin that haunts you and brings you exactly what He said: "Peace!"
And because today is one of those Lord's Days, we rejoice that He is among us right now through His Word and that He will come among us also shortly through His Sacrament. The Risen Christ will yet stand among us and speak peace, and show His wounds and He will touch us with His body and blood, enter us, and renew us so that, as St. John Chrysostom once said, we will come back from His table roaring like lions! For the Lion of Judah, alive forevermore, will have come into us. Our sins forgiven, our life secured. And the breath of our roaring will have on it in the tinge of the resurrection, the sweet smell of a life that never ends. The savor of the Spirit.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!