The following is a reflection I gave this past Sunday at an beautiful service that was created by celebrant Maryann Crilly.
It should be noted that the Gospel for the Orthodox Easter afternoon liturgy is the same as the one proclaimed in the Western Church for the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday. The former considers the “evening of that same day” as Easter whereas the Western Church considers it 8 days later.
Reflection for Orthodox Easter April 12, 2015
John 20:22 – “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Abba God has sent Me, even so I send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”
We consider ourselves disciples of Yeshua Bar Yosef, do we not? Imagine being huddled together in a hiding place, afraid we would be found. It’s Sunday. Two days ago, our Rabbi, our friend, our Lord had been executed by the Romans. For what? Treason? Sedition? I don’t know about you but I would have been terrified that the Romans were coming for me next.
Simon is not exactly a “rock” of dependability and strength. You might say he is ‘petrified.’ Ya’akov bar Yosef (James) is stoic and must see to his mother’s grief. Meriam is trying her best to be a mother to all of us but emotions are high. We feel lost and despondent, waiting for someone or something to give us hope.
True, the Magdalen came to us this morning proclaiming Jesus was alive! He had “risen from the dead,” she said. But she a woman! We know they can be hysterical and not capable of true witness. Their testimony is not recognized in our courts. She must have imagined it. But she was so adamant, so sure. She said she had seen him herself. And he told her to tell us. Imagine being told anything by a woman!
So we wait, terrified of what is going to happen next as the sun is slowly setting on our hopes and dreams.
Then we realize that Jesus is with us! Can it really be him? I would think my mind must be playing tricks on me. I want desperately to believe but it is inconceivable that he would again be with us after all he suffered. It’s no wonder Thomas can’t comprehend it. I’m not sure I can either.
We hear his words: “Shalom! Peace be with you! As Abba God has sent Me, even so I send you.”
Shalom is so much more that the absence of conflict. It means wholeness where there is division, contentedness where there is anxiety, and perfection overcoming corruption. He is telling us that we are ONE, that we will have everything we need, that everything will be perfect.
And when He had said this, we feel his breath upon us as we hear his words: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
Now we can take a breath. We can breathe. We’ve been waiting since Friday to exhale and Jesus has given us the means to do so.
From this action we see the words of our Hebrew Scriptures come alive: Genesis 1:2 – And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the RUACH of God moved upon the face of the waters. Genesis 2:7 – And the LORD God formed man and woman [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life; and man and woman became living souls. Job 27:3 – All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils; Job 33:4 – The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.
The Hebrew word for “breath” is ruach. It is a feminine noun (although some western scholars have bent over backwards to try to translate it as “wind” which is sometimes masculine.) It also means the “Spirit” of God, as in our concept of Holy Spirit.
Jesus does a very feminine thing in breathing on us; like a mother who breathes at the most intense moments of labor, or the midwife who gently breathes into the baby’s nostrils at birth to stimulate his or her first gasps of air. (There was no slapping of bottoms until the male doctors took over in later centuries.)
Ruach is also related to the Hebrew word “ra’a,” which means friend. His breathing is an act of friendship, waking us up, calling us to new life in abundance.
We have the English homonym, breadth (from the old English word for broad) which is defined as “the freedom from narrowness or restraint; liberality: for example, a person with great breadth of view.” Jesus is expanding our horizons in every conceivable direction, including the inconceivable overcoming of death. “[S]o that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God…” St. Paul’s Letter the Ephesians 3:17-19
Jesus has breathed into us new life and new understanding. We cannot live in fear and disharmony. We cannot allow anything to hold back God’s love. Jesus calls us “friends.” Friends forgive each other, do they not? We are told to forgive others as he has forgiven us; even when they betray us, or deny us, or abandon us, or doubt us. In the reading from Acts in the Orthodox liturgy we are asked to witness his love in this way to the ends of the earth.
Jesus breathes on us and into us to fill us with the fullness of God. The breadth of his love is immeasurable. His breath gives us hope. His breath gives us life.
In the Hebrew the Spirit is always FEMALE (ruach) and in the GREEK New Testament always NEUTER (pneuma), thus creating a CONTRADICTION. When translated into Latin (spiritus) the Spirit becomes MALE. The Western belief that the Holy Spirit is male comes from the Roman language, Latin, not from either Hebrew or Greek. No Person can have three genders!
The problem is eliminated when we turn to the HEBREW and ARAMAIC texts of the New Testament from which the GREEK texts were translated. As one scholar notes:
“One problem that presents itself in translating the New Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic into English is that of the gender of the Ruach haKodesh (Holy Spirit). English is very different from Hebrew and Aramaic. To begin with, English has three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter (i.e. he, she and it). Hebrew and Aramaic have no neuter gender. In Hebrew and Aramaic everything is either a “he” or a “she” and nothing is an “it”. Also gender plays a much more important role in Hebrew and in Aramaic than in English. In English gender is usually only an issue when dealing with pronouns. But in Hebrew and Aramaic nouns and verbs are also masculine or feminine. And while there are no true adjectives in Hebrew (nouns are also used as adjectives), noun modifiers must agree in gender with the noun. Now the Hebrew word RUACH (Aramaic RUCHA) is grammatically feminine as is the phrase Ruach haQodesh. This is matched by the rôle of the Ruach haQodesh as “comforter”(Jn.14-16) and the identifier of the “comforter” with YHWH acting as a “mother” (Is.66: 13).