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The Kiss of Life
This past week was a week of death. Because a jury acquitted the four policemen charged in the beating of Rodney King, we saw death strike at the system of justice. We saw a city trying to kill itself because people, losing all sense of reason, turned into mobs completely out of control. People who are convinced of their powerlessness, who no longer feel they can trust the police to protect them and defend them, attacked their own communities with acts of violence and death. Rage, injustice, and unbridled violence attacked our nation's infrastructure. Anarchy pounded its breast, raised its fist, and struck a death blow to civilization.
I selected the sermon title, THE KISS OF LIFE, before the events of last week awesomely and gruesomely demonstrated the kiss of death. In the midst of death, violence, and injustice; indeed, against the backdrop of death, violence and injustice, the power of Easter is especially vivid. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead assures us that today, even in the midst of and in spite of death, God kisses us with the breath of life.
It was in a similar time that Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, appeared to his disciples. They were gathered in fear for their lives. They had witnessed the execution of their Lord. They had heard the blood thirsty mob chant, "Crucify him, crucify him." They had witnessed the heartless soldiers beat Jesus, whip Jesus, taunt and humiliate him by dressing him in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. From afar, in hiding, they witnessed his painful, unnecessary death.
It was in a similar time, a time of death, a time of injustice, a time when there seemed no hope, a time when the forces of evil and destruction seemed in control, the disciples experienced an unbelievable visit from their supposedly dead Lord. In spite of the locked door, locked out of fear of soldiers who might come looking for them, the resurrected Jesus came, stood among them, and said, "Shalom." In the Scripture lesson today, shalom is translated, "Peace be with you". But, shalom means much more. It meant "Hi, good to see you. I hope for you the very best. May you know kindness, good health, fulfillment, hope and contentment. Shalom. Peace be with you."
Then Jesus showed them his hands and his side, his wounded hands, his pierced side. And he said, "Shalom. As God has sent me, so I send you." With this word of action, with this commissioning to active duty and service, he breathed on them. He kissed them with the breath of life and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." In essence he was saying, "Don't be afraid. Don't let death intimidate you. Don't let violence, and injustice win. Get out there and do my work. Turn from death to life. Turn from discouragement to hope." And Jesus empowered them. He kissed them with life.
Actually, this was not the first time God breathed life. The first kiss of life is recorded at the beginning of the Bible, in the second story of creation. It is interesting how John the gospel writer drew similarities between the resurrection and creation, between Jesus, the second Adam, and the first Adam.
The second chapter of Genesis, one of the world's greatest masterpieces of poetic imagination, gives us an account of creation that is quite unlike the first chapter of Genesis. The earth was dry. God sent a flood to rise out of the earth and water all the surface of the dry earth, creating mud. From the swamp, God then scooped out a crusty clump of cosmic clay and formed a person. The Hebrew word for person or human is adam, and the Hebrew word for ground is also adamh with a slightly different spelling, so from adamh God formed Adam. From the ground God formed a human, and "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." God kissed Adam to life with the breath of life.
Then, God planted a garden, and appointed Adam to take care of it. The world's oldest profession is not what you think it is; it is that of gardener. Plowing, cultivating, fertilizing, planting, weeding and harvesting the garden are the tasks of the gardener. God created us humans to take care of the earth. We are the gardeners; not the exploiters and destroyers of the earth which we humans seem to think is our God-given right, but gardeners.
In Genesis 2:18, God looked at the garden and the gardener and said, "It is not good that Adam should be alone; I will make a helper as his partner." So, what did God do? Out of the ground, "God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air." (v. 19) Notice how advanced this ancient story is! The animals and birds were created as helpers and partners! Animals and birds were created for companions to the human. Far from our being able to do anything we want to with animals, they are created out of the same ground humans are, and are created for companionship and partnership in living on this earth and taking care of this earth.
The uniqueness of the relationship with animals is further underscored by God's next act. God brought the animals and birds to Adam, the human, to do what? To name them. Naming established a relationship. Animals are not inanimate things put here for our exploitation and destruction. Animals have names. They are creations of God.
But, there was still something lacking in the human-animal relationship. The element of equality was missing. Tragedy of tragedies the older biblical translations, reflecting a patriarchal culture, give the impression that Eve was created as a help-mate, somehow inferior to Adam. But, the New Revised Standard Version does justice to the original meaning. Animals were partners with Adam, but they were not equal partners. So God split the Adam! The Lord took one of Adam's ribs and created an equal human, evidenced by the verse of equal partnership, v. 24, "they became one flesh."
The sublime garden where animals and humans, man and woman, Adam and Eve, lived together in harmony with God's creation was short lived. Sin, betrayal, jealousy, and violence entered the scene. The humans were driven from the garden, and disharmony, friction, exploitation, and destruction have become the kiss of death. The violent times in which we live are but another example.
God, however, did not give up and yield to the kiss of death. For John, the gospel writer, Jesus is the New Adam, the Second Adam who restores us to our original relationship with God and God's creation. There are several similarities between the creation of Adam and the appearances of the resurrected Christ in the gospel of John. As we heard read in the lesson, Mary did not at first recognize Jesus because she supposed him to be the gardener. Just as the First Human was a gardener, so the Second Adam returned as a gardener. It is also very significant that Mary does not recognize the gardener as Jesus until Jesus names her, until he says, "Mary."
The human species has been twice kissed by the divine. The first kiss brought us breath and birth, the second kiss brought us rebirth and a second breath. The resurrected Jesus breathed on the disciples. They received the Holy Spirit. They were empowered, given authority to minister in Jesus' name, and sent out to do God's work.
Today, Jesus kisses you and me with the breath of life. "Receive the Holy Spirit," Jesus breathes. "Restore my earth as it was created." The kiss of death is on the environment. God kisses us with life, breathing on us a new life in harmony with God's creation. O, how we have misused, misunderstood and messed up the earth. The author of Job caught the vision in 12:7-10,
But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.
Today Jesus kisses you and me with the breath of life. "Receive the Holy Spirit," Jesus breathes. "Restore harmony among people." Build a world where beatings, unjust verdicts, riots, rage, lootings, arson are unnecessary. Build a world where all God's people are given a chance. From out of the mud of destruction, create a new world. Jesus died for everyone. Jesus died for the youths who have no hope. Jesus died for the youths who attack civilization. Jesus died for the youths who kill themselves with drugs. Go love them. Go teach them. Go breathe the Holy Spirit on them.
John Wesley used the image of breathing to describe how we are given new life. God continually breathes on us. God continually kisses us with grace, the unmerited, unrestricted, overwhelming love of God for us. Breathe in grace, breathe in "God loves me," and breathe out prayer, praise, and service. By this inhaling and exhaling--grace in, prayer and praise out--we, according to Wesley, grow up until we come to the full measure of the stature of Christ. Receive the Holy Spirit. Inhale the Holy Spirit and exhale the Holy Spirit. Share the love of God. Create gardens out of chaos. Take care of the earth. Restore it to its original beauty. Take care of God's people. Live in harmony with everyone. O, may the kiss of life overpower the kiss of death.
© 1992 Douglas I. Norris