Easter Week… Monday

Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb.
He stooped down but could see nothing but the wrappings.
So he went away full of amazement at what had occurred.

Luke 24:12

Our last hours in Israel flew by. We’d spent the day plodding through truly holy land and by early evening we sat in a restaurant for our farewell meal. We enjoyed the tempting aromas inside while unsuspecting Israelis tended to their daily routines as they had done throughout our tour. Each one was rightfully oblivious to the amazing journey my fellow travelers and I had just completed.

Jerusalem was a bustling metropolis in Jesus’ day as well, especially during Passover. Devout people flocked to the city to observe this sacred feast in the temple. Faithful as they were, many of them didn’t acknowledge Jesus’ crucifixion. Though some had met Jesus and even marveled at his words, many others were oblivious to the itinerant teacher who had somehow managed to get himself crucified. Yet, in spite of these mixed reviews, Jesus’ words and works remain in the hearts of more than two billion people who consider themselves Christians today. Even some who profess no faith at all regard Jesus’ example as revolutionary and inspiring.

When Peter discovered those burial cloths in Jesus’ tomb, I imagine he vacillated between feelings of awe and ambivalence. Though thrilled at the possibility that Jesus had actually risen, how could Peter not ask himself, “What now?” As we know, Peter answered that question in the days that followed.

Today, you and I must answer the same question. Like, Peter, though we can’t be certain of what tomorrow will bring, we can be sure of what we bring to tomorrow. I hope I can bring a bit of faith in my fellow humans, hope in our capacities to conquer this virus and to endure, confidence in all of our efforts, love for everyone I meet along the way -even though that “way” is confined to my house just now- and attitude enough to stick this out for as long as it takes!

Dear God, be with us all as we answer “What now?” as best we can.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Holy Thursday

When the hour arrived, he took his
place at table, and the apostles with him.
He said to them, “I have greatly desired to eat
this Passover with you…”

Luke 22:14

In Jerusalem, there is a church next door to the Upper Room. I was deeply moved by my visit to the Upper Room though archaeologists are certain that this is not the actual location of the Last Supper. That nearby church doesn’t claim to be this holy place either. Still, the life-size sculpture of the Last Supper inside that church certainly gave me reason to pause. While I was moved by the large figures seated at a stone table who brought that amazing night to life, it was the lone statue of Mary Magdalene which assured me that, had I been there, Jesus would have welcomed me in as well.

I chose to share Luke’s passage regarding the Last Supper because it captures the sense of homecoming which overwhelmed me throughout my stay in Israel. Jesus seemed to say, “I have greatly desired to spend this time with you.” At every turn, I was acutely aware of God’s presence in a particular place or within the people there. Sometimes, God came in strangers and sometimes in those with whom I traveled. Our dear tour guide Yossi would blush upon hearing how often his words and kindness and musical interludes ushered me into God’s company.

On this Holy Thursday, the same words are spoken to each one of us… I have greatly desired to eat this meal and to spend this time with you! Though our churches are locked and our opportunities to break bread at the same table with those we love are nonexistent these days, we can still express Jesus’ sentiments to those we’ve been given to love. We can break bread together in spirit through a phone call or text message, a greeting card or an email. Be creative and share the love!

Dear God, thank you for the example of Jesus’ creative generosity.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Close Enough…

Upon disembarking Jesus saw a vast crowd.
He pitied them for they were like sheep without a shepherd
and he began to teach them at great length.

Mark 6:34

In Israel, when we arrived at Tabgha, our guide shared that this is the place where many believe Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fish and loaves of bread. As we drove off to the next site, I nuzzled into my seat on the bus. It had been a long day and I wondered what was it like to be among the crowds who saw all that Jesus did? What must it have been like to get to know him more personally?

A community of Jewish Christians likely occupied the area from Jesus’ time for perhaps four centuries. Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim from 380 C.E., wrote her observations when she visited this place. She’d found rock formations which were considered memorials of the three events which occurred there: the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding with loaves and fishes and a post-resurrection appearance to the apostles. Though it is possible that all three events occurred as was believed, modern scholars suggest that this may not be the case.

Once again, I found that the location of Jesus’ activities meant far less to me than all that he did. Though Jesus may not have taught in this place, he certainly taught with his every word and deed wherever he walked. Though the loaves and fish may not have fed a full five thousand that day, Jesus certainly exhibited his compassion for the people in a memorable way. Perhaps this also wasn’t a place Jesus visited after he rose from the dead. His assertion that there is life after this life lives on regardless.

At the end of that day, I gave thanks for this opportunity to walk where Jesus walked, to breathe the air Jesus breathed and to see the sights Jesus saw. Whether as near as his closest friends or as distant as the crowds who watched from afar, simply being there mattered to me.

Being there for one another is just as important these days. Though we must engage in social distancing for all of our safety, we can get closer via a phone call, a text, a note or an email. Be creative and share the love!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus’ life among us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fishers of People

He said to them, “Come after me and
I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4:19

One of the most beautiful sites in Magdala is The Boat Chapel. This chapel features a large semicircular window behind the altar which allows those present to view the Sea of Galilee as they pray. Even more striking is the altar itself which is shaped like a boat. When I entered the chapel for the first time, the “boat” in the sanctuary took my breath away.

In Jesus’ day, the Sea of Galilee teemed with fish just as it does today. Magdala enjoyed an excellent economic standing as a result of the fishing industry which thrived there. One wonders why Peter and Andrew left their boats and their livelihoods to follow Jesus. One wonders what they were thinking when Jesus asked them to apply their fishing skills to gathering the rest of us into their company.

We know well that Peter and Andrew weren’t the only ones to leave their jobs to follow Jesus. Nor was Mary Magdalene alone in her admiration and support of this amazing man who’d called each one of them by name. This phenomenon has continued two millenniums since in spite of our often mediocre fishing skills. Just as Jesus placed his work in the hands of Peter, Mary and the others, he entrusts it to us.

It seems best to proceed as Jesus did, one loving interaction at a time, especially now…

Loving God, help me as I hone my fishing skills so I can cast your love everywhere toward everyone. Maybe I’ll catch a heart or two along the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Is He?

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist;
others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered,
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 16:13-16

On our way to the River Jordan, we passed the Banias Spring. This spring is one of the main sources of the Jordan River and the home of Israel’s largest waterfall. The area’s long ago inhabitants seemingly appreciated its beauty and utility. The City of Dan was located there in biblical times. On a ledge above rested Fort Dan which stood before a cave dedicated to the Greek god Pan. Later, the Romans and King Herod himself ruled there. When Herod’s son Philip took over, he renamed the area Caesarea Philippi, not to be confused with the other Caesarea on the Mediterranean which was also Herod’s city.

All of this information set my head spinning until I recalled a small, but important detail regarding this place. The passage above from the New Testament tells us this is the place where Jesus asked his closest friends what the people were saying about him. As you have already read, Simon Peter was brave enough to respond.

Every site I visited in Israel revealed more of Jesus’ identity to me. If he asked the same question of me today, I would respond, “You are the source of everything I know about God. I live as I do because of you.”

Dear God, help me to reveal your presence in all that I say and do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share The Treasure

I hope you aren’t tiring of reading about my experiences in the Holy Land because I don’t think I’ll ever tire of writing about the treasures I encountered there. It’s difficult to keep good news of any kind to oneself: A cancer remission, a seemingly impossible pregnancy, a job promotion or a scholarship to the college of ones choice. The list goes on and on. I once used this space to share my elation over finding a ring which I thought I’d lost forever. My heart danced when that ring appeared in a drawer I’d searched several times beforehand. The treasures I rediscovered in the Holy Land are at least as valuable and I simply have to share the joy they bring me with you.

Now I realize that this is Lent and that our focus this season is both penitential and transformational. Since childhood, I’ve hoped to emerge from these forty days as an improved version of myself. I tried to do my best within the moments at hand on each of those days. I also attempted to get to know Jesus more intimately as I plodded along. My visits to Jesus’ homeland added an unexpected dimension to my efforts. I’ve always believed that Jesus remains nearby. Nonetheless, when I walked the streets of Nazareth and Capernaum, Magdala and Jerusalem, Jesus’ presence took on unexpected clarity.

I found myself immersed in Jesus’ daily life along with his family and his closest friends. As I walked among the descendants of Jesus’ contemporaries, I felt their urgency. Each one had a place to be. Whether on the way to a joyful encounter or a dreaded interaction, all concerned hurried along. As for me, I imagined those who walked these streets with Jesus. There were the curious ones who’d heard of this new teacher and the sick who hoped that they might find a cure in him. I imagined those with no hope who reluctantly searched just once more for peace in their lives. I imagined those isolated and lonely souls who turned to Jesus because they had no place else to go. Those who shared the streets of Israel with me really didn’t look much different than I. Yet each one spoke a tale of Jesus’ compassionate love. How can I not share this treasure at every opportunity?

On this Second Sunday of Lent, we listen once again to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9). By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had begun to appreciate the treasure they had found in him. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something quite remarkable about himself. Jesus’ lessons up to that point included his parables, references to the scriptures and to The Law and his own interpretation of these things. More importantly, Jesus had reinforced every word with his own example. Jesus left no doubt that generously loving one another is the most efficient means to living righteously and to loving God. On that mountainside, Jesus gifted Peter, James and John with a glimpse of the treasure which lay at the end of Jesus’ ministry and at the end of his life. When Jesus took on his “after life” appearance, he offered his closest friends a glimpse of the glory which awaited them as well.

I’m certain that Peter, James and John were never the same after that day. They survived the terrible events which eventually stole Jesus from them because that image of Jesus in his glory remained etched into their memories and onto their hearts. Though Jesus cautioned his three friends not to speak of what they’d seen until he’d risen, I imagine that Peter, James and John shared this treasure long beforehand. It’s difficult to keep such treasures to oneself. I’m convinced of this because of my own eagerness to share my experience of Jesus in his homeland.

It was in Jesus’ homeland that I was gifted with a transfiguration of sorts as well. I peered into the eyes of an Israeli who likely resembled Jesus’ ancestors. I was inches from a tiny oil lamp dated to Jesus’ time and referenced in his parables. I sailed the Sea of Galilee with a Jewish man who had found Jesus in the pilgrims he’d met on his boat. I walked the path to Gethsemane which was painfully more familiar than I’d hoped it would be. All of this I did in the quiet company of Jesus and Peter, James and John and the rest. Yes, the love which propelled Jesus along his way was quite tangible in the ruins around me. That love touched Peter, James and John on the mountainside. How can I not share the treasure of that love which touches you and me today?

Lent 2020 provides each of us the opportunity to rediscover the treasure which is Jesus’ life among us. Jesus himself invites us to take his words and works to heart, to recognize God’s unconditional love for us and to share these treasures at every opportunity.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved