by Rev. Doug Gray
What are the things that paralyze us?
For the disciples it was fear—fear of the people and forces that had crucified Jesus. Sometimes fear is what paralyzes us too—fear that we will disappoint someone, that we will look bad, or that others might get the wrong idea. Sometimes we are afraid that we will lose or that we can’t do something perfectly, so we can’t bring ourselves to do that something. Sometimes we fear, and that fear paralyzes us.
Sometimes we get locked up even by the good things in our lives. Like the disciples on Easter Night, we may have heard the Good News—that God is real and amazing, loving, kind and in control—but we are afraid it might be true. Perhaps, like the disciples we are locked up, hunkering down, because if Jesus died for us and rose to new life, that would change everything. We might have to give up shouting at the driver who cut us off, or at the person checking us out or at someone who is different from us. Because we might then recognize that Jesus died for them too, and that we are no better. Or perhaps we have decided we are supremely rational, and to acknowledge that Jesus not only was real, but is real, would shake the foundations of our life and identity. To accept that some of the best, most powerful, most meaningful things in life have as much to do with deep mystery as they do with rational thought—well that may feel like we are leaving secure logic behind. So we try to lock ourselves away from even the Good News. Perhaps we are not so different from these disciples after all. The disciples left all they had to follow Jesus, but now they are paralyzed by fear and locked away from the world.
Into our fearful paralysis and locked down hearts, Jesus comes. Locks and walls, fear and paralysis are not barriers to this untamed Lord! Jesus comes and speaks the words we long to hear, “Peace be with you.” These words can unclench our hearts and ease our fears. That Jesus speaks them means that peace comes from knowing we are safe in God. And that would have been enough for some—but Jesus shows he understands the disciples’ confused and fearful hearts. Jesus doesn’t just say, “Peace to you!”, He shows them how it can be, shows them His nail-scarred hands and His spear-pierced side, and they have joy. As we receive Jesus’ peace, understanding more deeply the meaning of Jesus’ nail-scarred and spear-pierced grace, we too can have peace and joy as we recognize He is Lord.
And then Jesus breathes on his followers. I remember when I was a teen-ager and I was getting ready for a date, I would hold my hand in front of my face and breathe into my hand, so I could smell my breath. There’s an intimacy in being close enough to feel and smell someone’s breath. I wonder what that experience was like for the disciples, so close they could feel Jesus’ breath as they received the Holy Spirit.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis describes the effects of the Christ-figure, Aslan, when Aslan breathes on animals and people who have been turned to stone by the Witch. He writes,
[Aslan] had bounded up to the stone lion and breathed on him…I expect you’ve seen someone put a lighted match to a bit of newspaper which is propped up in a [fireplace] against an unlit fire. And for a second nothing seems to have happened; and then you notice a tiny streak of flame creeping along the edge of the newspaper. It was like that now. For a second after Aslan had breathed upon him the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back—then it spread then the color seemed to lick all over him as the flame licks all over a bit of paper—then, while his hindquarters were still obviously stone, the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stone folds rippled into living hair. Then he opened a great red mouth, warm and living, and gave a prodigious yawn. And now his hind legs had come to life. (pp.167–168)
What would it be like, if while we were praying, we were to pray for Jesus to breathe upon us? Could we offer Jesus our fearful hearts and petrified lives? Wouldn’t Jesus come close to us too, to breathe on us, and wouldn’t start like “a tiny streak of flame creeping along the edge” until our stone hearts would become flesh—able to feel compassion and show love?
Jesus says, “Peace to you.” No more fear…only trust. No longer locked down or locked up…only forgiven so we can forgive.