I have been blessed (or cursed) with a very acute sense of smell. I am the one who knows something is rotting in the refrigerator before anyone else. I can detect brewing coffee from miles away. Smells hold memories for me and make them almost real all over again.
I remember the smell of my mother’s lap when I was young child, held close and rocked. I remember the smell of peppermint mints used to keep my mouth full, and therefore silent, when I was in church and too young to choose to listen. I still remember the sweet smell of my newborn children snuggled up with me late at night, their breath milky and baby shampoo scented hair.
There is also a smell to this time of year that fills my soul with joy. The combination of pumpkins cooking and cinnamon and family packed into a house, a fire burning, and leather in our gloves and shoes. This smell feels like home and grace and laughter and belonging all rolled into one.
But there is a distinct smell of fear. It smells like adrenaline and sweat and muscles ready to fight. This is the smell I imagine was present in that room on the evening of the third day described in John 20. The disciples were afraid of the Jews and maybe all out of tears to be cried for the death of their friend. The women had returned with tales of a risen Jesus but all the men had seen was an empty grave. Death, in the form of misused power, had won already. The Jews were victorious and all the disciples had left was fear.
And then Jesus was there.
And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22
He breathed on them. That strikes me as so very odd. Why does John record this detail when no other gospel bothers? Why does John want us to know this very strange fact? He breathed on them.
In a room full of fear, Jesus breathed deeply enough to blow breath onto his disciples. Have you ever tried to breathe deeply when you are panicked? It doesn’t usually work so well. But Jesus wasn’t afraid. Jesus breathed in deep and full, his lungs intact again. And he breathed on them. I wonder what his breath smelled like? I wonder if it smelled a bit like heaven…home and grace and laughter and belonging and joy all rolled into one.
John reminds us of Genesis 2 when God breathes the breath of life into Adam, creating a living being. Humans are animated by the very breath of God! And when Jesus breathed on those terrified followers, he was breathing out life all over again. It was new life; God-with-us life. A new Eden; a new ‘together in relationship’ with God.
When your world is full of fear and the smell of it drips off your skin, take heart. Jesus breaths on us the Holy Spirit, as well. The smell of heaven lives in you and through you and around you.
Breathe it in. Yes, really. Right now. Take a deep breath.
Feel it fill your lungs with life. This isn’t just oxygen. It’s God, it’s life!
Trace its path from your nose
to your lungs
to your heart
to your toes
to your fingers
and to your brain.
The very being of God courses through your veins and arteries. This life-giving force of relationship moves in you and through you and around you.
And it smells a little like home and grace and laughter and joy and belonging and wholeness all rolled into one.
Rhesa Higgins Spiritual Director and Founder: Eleven:28 Ministries Highland Oaks Church of Christ Dallas, Texas