After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples in a room where they huddled together "for fear of the Jews." He greeted them in a common Jewish manner by saying, "Peace be with you!" His presence filled their hearts with joy. He repeated his greeting and then commissioned them with these words, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And then He did something peculiar. He breathed on them.
And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:22
Theologians are somewhat divided on exactly what this means. Was this the moment the disciples actually received the Holy Spirit, and if so, what happened on the day of Pentecost? Or, is Jesus speaking prophetically, preparing them for what would happen days later?
I tend to embrace the later view, but in either case we know this is true: the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, is closer than the air we breathe. The lyric to a popular praise song says, "You are the air I breathe, Your holy presence in me."
The creation story marks the first time we hear about the Holy Spirit. Genesis 1:1 says, "And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach which means "air in motion" and is the same word for "breath."
The Spirit or Breath of God also played a role in the creation of humankind. Genesis 1:26 says, "Let us make man in our image." The first hint of the triune nature of God bursts forth from the plural pronouns. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each played a role in creation.
The creation story provides even more details about humankind. Genesis 2:7 says, "The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."
Yes, God literally breathed life into Adam's dusty body. Job picks up on this idea and makes a connection to the Holy Spirit when he says, "The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty God gives me life" (Job 33:4).