On Easter, world-renowned opera singer Andrea Bocelli stood near the altar of the Duomo in Milan and sang to the world his prayer of hope. Maybe you watched it. Maybe you, like me, sat breathless as he walked out onto the front steps of the great cathedral and sang “Amazing Grace” while deserted cityscapes of Paris, London, and New York filled the screen.
It was one of those rare moments where I realized, while it was happening, that I would remember it for the rest of my life.
The readings today reflect two likewise memorable events. The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and John have just returned to the other disciples after escaping threats of persecution. Together with the disciples, they ask God to “enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness, as you stretch forth your hand to heal.” As they prayed this, “the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
In the gospel, we meet Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, sneaking off to meet Jesus under the cover of darkness. Nicodemus asks Jesus, “How can a man once grown old be born again?” Jesus replies, “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” Then Jesus adds:
The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
The Hebrew word ruah can be translated as wind, Spirit, breath, or air. Ruah is the Holy Spirit. Ruah is the breath of God that animates all living things. Ruah is the wind that rustles trees and makes the daffodils dance outside my window. Ruah is the rushing of courage into the hearts of the disciples, it is the breath they use to speak boldly in the face of suffering.
Ruah can be frightening. A few days ago, when 50 mile per hour winds swept across New Haven, whistling through my apartment like a teapot, I pulled the blinds and huddled under a blanket. But Fear of the Lord is a gift of the Spirit, too.
Just yesterday, when I was reading more about Andrea Bocelli, letting his voice fill the air around me again, I read something that maybe the rest of the world already knew but took my breath away. This world-famous singer, who humbly and boldly brought millions together in prayer, is blind.
I clicked again to the end of the video. Andrea draws a deep breath. He fills his lungs with ruah, and smiling ever so slightly, sings, “was blind but now I see.”
Jesus reminds us today we are both spirit and flesh. We are living in a time when the flesh is very vulnerable, and it is dampening the spirit. But now is the time that the world needs to hear the message of Christ the most. Now is the time that humanity needs to believe that it can be reborn. We are called to pray for boldness, to breathe deeply, and even when we don’t understand where the Spirit is taking us, proclaim our message of hope to the aching world, because we are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.