Following the Easter Sunday celebration, the church enters into the Easter Season or the Great Fifty Days. The Scripture lessons in the lectionary for the Sundays that follow reveal
the accounts of Jesus’ appearance during the 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension, and a further 10 days of waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.1
Every year, the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is taken from John 20:19-31, which tells of how Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples on the evening of the first Easter Day. As such, I find it very fitting to introduce this choice hymn, which first appeared in 1878 in a pamphlet titled “Between Doubt and Prayer”.
‘Breathe on Me, Breath of God’ was written by Edwin Hatch, an Anglican minister and Oxford scholar who was born at Derby, England on 4 Sep 1835. Hatch was educated at Pembroke College, Oxford. Two years after his graduation in 1859, Dr Hatch began serving as the professor of the classics at Trinity College, Quebec in Canada.2
After returning to England in 1867, Dr Hatch was appointed Vice-Principal of St. Mary Hall, Oxford. He became Rector of Purleigh in 1883. Even though Dr Hatch was widely known to give lectures that were profoundly engaging and inspiring, it was said of the professor that his religion was as “simple and unaffected as a child’s”.3
That was clearly exhibited in his hymn, which is a simple and yet profound prayer offered to the Holy Spirit. In both Hebrew and Greek the word for “spirit” is the same as “wind or air”; thus the Spirit of God is rightfully alluded to as the “Breath of God”.
The first breath of God gave life to Adam in Genesis 2:7 and this hymn prays that God will breathe on us and fill us with life anew (stanza 1). To breathe is to live, and to live a life that is directed by the Spirit, is to love as Jesus loves (stanza 1), to purify our hearts to do His will (stanza 2), and to be in close intimacy with God that heralds the perfection of eternal life (stanza 3), which is untouched by death (stanza 4).
To have the Spirit of God within us is one thing. But to be filled with the Holy Spirit requires us to surrender our lives wholly to the Lordship of Christ. Let us receive the fresh breath of God and live a Christ-like life that exalts and glorifies our Lord and Saviour for the world to see.
1 Hoyt L. Hickman, Handbook of the Christian Year (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986), 219.
2 Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 151.
3 Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion: Insight into Three Hundred Christian Hymns (Wilton: Morehouse Barlow, 1985), 230.
Dr Yeo Teck Beng is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.