A Look of Love: Feeling the breath of God
In his latest book A Look of Love - Witnesses to Jesus, Belfast author Jim Deeds shares a series of imagined conversations, stories and poems based on the life of Jesus and his early followers. This extract, inspired by the resurrection and John 20:19-22, brings readers into the presence of the risen Christ
IT was, as I remember, the last day I was ever afraid. Indeed, the feeling of what fear is like is something I can barely remember now. Isn't that remarkable?
And it is all the more so because of just how fearful I was then. Those few days were, without a doubt, the worst of days.
You will know the way the events had transpired, but bear with me and humour me as I tell you once again.
It is, of course, the most remarkable story ever told and so it requires frequent retelling.
We had been through a gruelling time; seeing our friend, our teacher, our great hope, arrested and treated so brutally.
That was when the fear really gripped me. Fear makes us behave in ways not of our choosing and I have to say that for me, fear led to me running away.
I still carry an echo of the shame of my actions somewhere within me, even after all these years.
It is, in a way, my cross, just as the one I ran from carried his.
I heard the crowd from afar as they jeered at him and pushed him to the cruel hill of Golgotha and to his death. I felt icy fear run through my blood as they applauded the executioners. I ran away once more.
I found my friends, most of whom had run away as well. They were hiding in the upper room of a house we knew well; a house where Jesus had eaten with us and laughed with us and taught us.
In the months before that day, the walls of the room had reverberated with voices of song and prayer.
Not so, that day. We sat in silence with no-one able to say much of anything at all.
Fear makes us behave in ways not of our choosing and led to me running away... It is, in a way, my cross, just as the one I ran from carried his
Peter and John were the only ones to have spoken, as I remember it.
They had told us that his body was not in the tomb when they went to look. I feared they had taken it and hidden it from us. Would they leave us nothing at all?
Every now and then, one of us would go to the door to ensure that it was locked. We didn't want the fate that befell Jesus to befall us.
Then the moment arrived that heralded the change.
There was a knock at the door. It took my breath away.
My eyes clenched shut, half expecting the knock to be followed by the crash of hammer and cudgel on wood as the authorities came smashing in.
No such noise followed. Rather, we heard a voice. Half-spoken and half-whispered, we heard, "Peter, John, James. It is Mary. Let me enter."
Magdalene. Quickly, Peter ran to the door and let her in.
She stood staring at us; this group of people with faces as long as the shadows at sunset, as she jokingly told us when she recounted this story in the good times that followed.
She stared for a moment and then did the most unusual thing. She began to laugh. We thought she had lost her sense. For, what was there to smile about, let alone laugh?
"Mary, what is this?" It was John who spoke this time.
Mary told us that she had seen Jesus. She had seen him outside the tomb as she wept for him and for his loss.
She had seen him, and he had told her that he was ascending to our Father. He had risen from death itself.
Many have asked me since what I thought as I heard Mary speak. My honest answer is that I could not think. I was confused. I heard words but I could not take them in.
Our brother Thomas had not been with us that evening and when he returned once it was all over, he could not bring himself to believe. Well, I was there as Mary spoke and I am not sure I believed.
But I digress. Once Mary had spoken, she and Peter, John and James went with Mary the mother of Jesus and some of the others to a table at the side of the room to discuss what Mary had said.
The rest of us looked on, rarely speaking and still checking the door.
I recall it was when it was my turn to check the lock that it happened. I walked to the door. I tried the handle and it was locked tight.
I turned away from the door and walked back towards my friends. I saw them all look towards what I thought was me.
How strange, I thought. What have I done that is so special and so worthy of all these stares?
I then saw that their expressions were of surprise and, in some, fear once more. I also realised that they were not looking at me. They were looking beyond me, behind me. I turned.
Jesus stood there. Not a vision of him or a ghost of him. Him. My friend, my teacher, my Lord.
He smiled at me and brushed gently past me, moving to the centre of the room. Time slowed down and my chest tightened, filled with my own breath.
It was breath of excitement and anticipation now.
He spoke, "Peace be with you."
As he finished speaking, my chest loosened up and I breathed once more. I felt the peace he offered as it coursed through my body, my mind, my heart and my soul.
These four words banished fear from my life forever. For when we have the peace of the Lord with us, fear is redundant.
We could see the wounds of the cross on his hands and his side.
It was true. Jesus had conquered death. Mary had been right. And here he was.
I remember the intense joy I felt. I knew that it was more intense than any fear I had felt before.
It was a deep sense of joy and peace. I carry it in me to this very day. We began to laugh and shout greetings to him. Some began to sing his favourite psalm for him.
Once more the walls of this room reverberated with voices of song and prayer. He bid us fall silent and wished us peace once more.
Then he held each of us in his stare. All of us there felt he was looking only at her or him.
"Just as my Father sent me, so am I sending you."
He moved once more and began to come to each of us. He came to me. He was so close. I must tell you that.
He was so close. He was close enough that I could feel his breath on my cheeks. I could have stayed there forever.
I felt it. I felt the breath of God on my cheek as he whispered in a voice of such love, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
He gave me my life's mission in that moment. He set me on a new path, which I follow even now.
A mission to tell his story and build his kingdom. A mission to spread love and peace and joy.
A mission to banish fear and death. A mission to bring life, and life to the full, here on earth and then to live eternally with him again in the Kingdom of Heaven.
A mission to tell all people that Jesus is as close to them right now as he was to me that day.
'Peace be with you'... These four words banished fear from my life forever
Questions for prayer and reflection:
Which character do you most identify with in this story? Why is that?
What fear would the breath of Jesus help you let go of this day?
What would you want to say to and hear from God today?
A Look of Love - Witnesses to Jesus, by Jim Deeds is published by Redemptorist Communications. It is priced at £8.95/€9.95 and is available from Redemptorist Communications or by telephoning 003531 4922488.