Respond!

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

Though we left Jerusalem on a Monday night, we ended our journey in a restaurant filled with diners. Throughout our tour, busy Israelis moved among and around us as they tended to their daily routines. That evening, they engaged in well-deserved leisure at the onset of a new workweek while we reminisced.

Jerusalem was a bustling metropolis in Jesus’ day as well, especially during Passover. Devout people flocked there 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 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?” Like we who rejoiced and were glad just a day ago, Peter had to determine how he would respond to Jesus’ presence in his life. As we know, Peter’s response morphed from fear to absolute joy over the days and weeks and months that followed.

Today, I wonder how my response to Jesus’ presence in my life will evolve…

Patient God, when I ask myself, “What now?” be with me as I sort through my own ambivalence and fear and awe.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Holy Week… Tuesday

The huge crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while some began to cut branches from the trees
and lay them along his path.

Matthew 21:8

I suppose it was easy to get caught up in the frenzy over Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the faces of those around me vied for my attention. Though most were too busy to notice the small group of tourists who hurriedly walked among them, an occasional passer-by offered a smile. Others looked less-than-pleased when our presence slowed their frenetic pace. I couldn’t complain. A friend I recently met at the grocery store pointed out that I sported a fairly sour facial expression when hurriedly making my way to a register. These Israeli’s who call Jerusalem home had no idea that they were a very important part of my time there.

I imagined Jesus looking out at the crowds who welcomed him with such excitement. Surely, they resembled our fellow pedestrians as we made our way through the city. Surely, they were as busy or preoccupied as their modern-day counterparts. Still, they stopped to welcome Jesus and to cheer him on. Had they heard about his miracles? Had they heard about his inability to pass by a person in need? Were they simply thrilled that someone was bucking their Roman rulers or the stringent temple hierarchy?

I have many reasons to welcome Jesus. Though I’ve heard about his miracles and his conflicts with the powers that be, it is Jesus’ inability to pass by any one of us which draws me to him.

Loving God, thank you for this Jesus who continues to reveal your great love for us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Now?

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. Though we’d spent the day plodding through truly holy land, by evening, we sat in a restaurant filled with Saturday night diners. While we enjoyed the tempting aromas inside, just outside, couples filled an elevated platform for a dance contest. Throughout our tour, busy Israelis often moved among and around us as they tended to their daily routines. That evening, they engaged in some well-deserved leisure on the eve of another workweek. 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 there 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 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 for himself and for us in the days that followed.

Patient God, when I ask myself, “What now?” be with me as I sort through my own ambivalence and fear and awe.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Tuesday of Holy Week

The huge crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while some began to cut branches from the trees
and lay them along his path.

Matthew 21:8

I suppose it was easy to get caught up in the frenzy over Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the faces of those around me vied for my attention. Though most were too busy to notice the small group of tourists who hurriedly walked among them, an occasional passer-by offered a smile. Others looked less-than-pleased when our presence slowed their frenetic pace. I couldn’t complain as I’ve sported the same facial expression when hurriedly making my way through the mall or grocery store. These Israeli’s who call Jerusalem home have no idea that they were a very important part of my time there.

I imagined Jesus looking out at the crowds who welcomed him with such excitement. Surely, they resembled our fellow pedestrians as we made our way through the city. Surely, they were as busy or preoccupied as their modern-day counterparts. Still, they stopped to welcome Jesus and to cheer him on. Had they heard about his miracles? Had they heard about his inability to pass by a person in need? Were they simply thrilled that someone was bucking their Roman rulers or the stringent temple hierarchy?

I have many reasons to welcome Jesus. Though I’ve heard about his miracles and his conflicts with the powers that be, it is Jesus’ inability to pass by anyone of us which draws me to him.

Loving God, thank you for this Jesus who continues to reveal your great love for us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Justice For All

Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for justice sake;
you shall be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6

While in Israel, I was amazed by the circumstances of its people and its property. Israel occupies a large portion of what we consider to be the Holy Land. Interestingly enough, the holiest places within its borders are controlled by various entities, including Muslims, Christians and Jews. Because our guide is an Israeli citizen who respects his countrymen whatever their beliefs and speaks Hebrew, Arabic and Italian (among other languages), he gained us access to sites where others are denied entry. Whenever this occurred, Yossi didn’t revel in his success. He simply pointed out that being respectful of the ways of others and meeting others on their own turf or terms usually leads to peaceful encounters which benefit all concerned. “This is the way to peace,” Yossi would say.

Perhaps this is the reason Yossi exhibited some impatience with his Hasidic Jewish neighbors. I was surprised to learn that they make up only ten percent of Israel’s population. Most of this sect live in their own neighborhoods where they adhere to the strictest code of conduct. Our guide also surprised me when he shared that eighty percent of the population is non-religious. It seemed to trouble Yossi to acknowledged that the holiest place on earth is home to so many non-religious people. Still, Yossi added that the strict rules and intolerance of a few soured many Israelis’ views of organized religion.

As I pondered all of this, I wondered how many of these “secular” Jewish people quietly worked toward change. I wondered how many of them also opened their hearts to something else as Yossi had.

Loving God, help us all to work toward justice with loving hands and loving hearts.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

An Oasis of Peace

“This is how you are to pray.”
Matthew 6:9

While in Israel, our guide lead us to several unexpected peaceful oases. One of these was the ancient city of Akko (Acre). Though the city dates back to biblical times, it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it houses classic Crusader ruins both under and above ground. We walked through Crusader halls and streets which date from the 12th and 13th Centuries. The city which stands today is reminiscent of a typical fortified Ottoman town of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Striking as these historical relics are, I found myself more taken by a tiny church resting in their shadows. The Church of St. Francis has been served for more than two decades by an Italian Franciscan priest. He ministers to a small band of parishioners who worship freely and peacefully in the midst of their larger Muslim community. Though the priest’s eyes glistened a bit when he shared the long years he’s been away from his homeland, his enthusiasm indicated that there is no place he would rather be. During this visit, I learned that Francis of Assisi visited Akko during Muslim rule. While there, Francis walked into a Muslim camp. Francis’ peaceful nature so moved their leader that the man allowed Francis to see all of the holy places from which Christians were banned at the time.

The priest who’d so warmly welcomed us gifted me with a holy card of St. Francis as I left. When I glanced at to see this tiny treasure, I found St. Francis’ prayer for peace on the back. What better message was there to take from this holy place where Muslims and Christians worshiped in peace in the heart of their Jewish country?

Loving God, make us all instruments of your peace.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved