On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19-22)
For her first trip through time and space, the Doctor takes Rose Tyler five billion years into the future. They land on a space station called Platform One, where the richest beings in the universe are gathering to watch the death of planet Earth. As the dignitaries arrive, they are introduced and then they exchange gifts of peace with others. A tree-alien named Jabe gives the Doctor a cutting of her grandfather, and, in a comedic moment, the Doctor, with no gift to give in return, presents her with “the air from my lungs” and blows a gentle breath in her direction.
We’re supposed to laugh at what the Doctor comes up with when forced to think on his feet, and to wonder what is going to happen when he doesn’t get away with it. Instead of being expelled from the event for his cheekiness, however, Jabe takes the Doctor seriously, responding with gratitude and thanking him for such an intimate gift.
Jabe gets it, even when the Doctor does not. Breath is personal. To feel someone’s breath, you have to be physically located very close to that person. Jesus, too, gave a very personal gift, not to a stranger he had just met, but to his closest friends, when he breathed the Holy Spirit on them. Although he would soon leave them, he gave them the gift of himself, his life and presence to continue with them even after his human presence had gone.
To those of us who are willing to bring ourselves close enough, God will breathe the Spirit into our lives as well. “Breathe on me, breath of God, Fill me with life anew,” is what Edwin Hatch wrote in a 19th century hymn that is still familiar to many of us. If we are willing to bring ourselves close enough, that is exactly what God will do.