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“Spiritus Dei,” “Breathe on Me, Breath of God”

Devotion, March 26, 2020


Read John 20.19-22

Our organist Betty Schripsema has been calling some of our homebound members from the sanctuary and playing their favorite hymns as they listen on the other end of the phone. Pastor Justin is collecting favorite hymn requests, playing them on the organ and then posting them on First Church’s Facebook page. (Go to our Facebook page to request your favorite hymns.) If I had to choose a favorite hymn it would be “Hope of the World.” Truth be told, there are many hymns that I love and would identify as favorite hymns.

“Breathe on Me, Breath of God” is one of those favorite hymns. Written in the late 1800s a man by the name of Edwin Hatch penned the text to this hymn based on John 20.21-22. Here Jesus said to his disciples in the evening of Resurrection Day, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father 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.’”

This passage correlates with Genesis 2.7 where “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” It is from this passage that we began our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday when Pastor Justin and I placed ashes on your/our foreheads and said “From dust, you were born and to dust you will return. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The ashes remind us of both our mortality and of the life God breathed into us.

“Breathe on Me, Breath of God” was originally titled “Spiritus Dei” or Spirit of God, which links the image of breath that of the Holy Spirit. In Greek, the same word is used for spirit and breath. The Board of Discipleship summarizes the message of the hymn this way, “the breath of God brings new life and love, purity and obedience, surrender and inspiration, and finally eternal life, as the hymn moves through various stages of Christian experience and discipline towards a unity with God.”

As these days of uncertainly increase, we all share in moments of increased anxiety. One of the ways to decrease our anxiety is simply to be conscious of our breaths as we ‘breathe.” One of the great gifts that Jesus left us is with the breath of the Holy Spirit and his peace. As you take time to breathe deeply in these days, be reminded that you are breathing in the power and peace of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s power that allows us to keep moving through these days and the Holy Spirit’s peace that keeps us centered in uncertainty.

In closing, as you take time to breathe in and out during the day, I also invite you to pray the words of Edwin Hatch’s hymn, “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” as you let the Spirit fills you.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

fill me with life anew,

that I may love what thou dost love,

and do what thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

until my heart is pure,

until with thee I will one will,

to do and to endure.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

until my heart is pure,

till all this earthly part of me

glows with thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

so shall I never die,

but live with thee the perfect life

of thine eternity. Amen.

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