“Then [Jesus] breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” John 20:22
Many times I have told people that I would be with them in spirit. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I become an apparition or suddenly have an out of body experience in order to be with them. As we approach the holy day of Pentecost, I thought about the writer of the gospel of John and how he approached the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in a very quiet way.
The disciples were hiding from the Jewish authorities out of fear of being arrested, and suddenly Jesus is there – poof! He shows them his hands and side and teaches them about the fulfillment of the scriptures. Finally, he breathes on them and imparts the Holy Spirit. There isn’t any fanfare, rushing sounds of “violent” winds, tongues of flame landing on their heads, or speaking in other languages, and all this in a very public way.
No, this was in a quiet room among friends and in a small but powerful sharing of Jesus’ Spirit. I’m sure that he was anxious to be on his way, but he was aware that he needed to commission this small band of disciples, to empower them so they could carry on his work. It was his way of telling them that they had trained, passed the course, and he would be there in spirit (or in Spirit) with them to help them along.
Maybe being with someone in spirit is a way of encouraging them and helping them to know how much you care and really wish you COULD be with them. Maybe imparting the Spirit on the disciples was Jesus reminder that he would really and truly always be with him even though in spirit. They would never be alone. Nor are we.
Being a follower of Jesus isn’t easy. Not having Jesus here in person is hard because we have to rely on the scriptures, the tradition of the church, our own understanding and experience of Jesus in order to fumble along. It might be helpful to think of an analogy. I have had many teachers and professors in my life between public school, my undergraduate degree and three post-graduate degrees. Some of them had only a small impact on my life, but those whom I remember the best were the ones who really taught me through example and feedback. I may not always have liked some of the comments on my papers, but I learned from them. In addition, the affirmations I received made me try harder to do even better. I carry the lessons learned from them in my life, and I probably will never see any of them again. Yet, they are certainly with me in spirit.
Jesus teaches us all the time. All we have to do is listen and be open to learning. We learn from reading the Bible, through prayer, in discussions, at worship, and by observing people and the world around us. Jesus is with us in spirit, just as our other teachers have been. I find it reassuring that Jesus is with us in Spirit. We are not alone. Thanks be to God!