Brave and Inquiring Thomas

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we continue to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. As is the case every Easter Season, we’ll sing alleluia for several weeks to come. As for me, I’ve been immersed in Easter sentiments for quite some time. Our January stay in Israel inspired much reflection regarding the life and death of Jesus. Unlike Jesus’ contemporaries, I cannot contemplate these things without considering all that has happened since Mary Magdalene and the rest discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. Because we know these things, our perspective differs greatly from Jesus’ friends who could only wonder about what was in store. I do my best to keep all of this in mind. Still, like many who try to live as Jesus lived, I often find myself falling short. Though I know what is in store for us all after this earthly life, I stumble and fall along the way. Today, I realize once again that I’m not alone in my frailty.

When I read the gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, I took a mental trip back to the Holy Land. This time, I was in the good company of the apostle Thomas. While considering this disciple whom John’s gospel portrays as the doubter, I found myself back in the pre-Sabbath hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The crowds I encountered there seemed to have known exactly where they were going and what they had to do. Knowing what was coming next is a luxury Thomas and the others rarely enjoyed while they walked with Jesus. Most of the time, they were uncertain of what to expect.

A few weeks ago we listened to a passage from John’s gospel which chronicled one such occasion. Some time before Jesus and the disciples returned to Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was near death. You probably recall that Jesus delayed going to his friend’s side in spite of the urgency of this news. Most of the disciples likely breathed a sigh of relief because their inevitable demise was put off a little longer. When Jesus finally announced their departure for Lazarus’ home, his friends reminded him that the people had recently tried to stone him in that very place. When Jesus explained his timing, it was Thomas who spoke up. “Let us also go and die with him,” Thomas said, in spite of the fact that he had no idea of what was in store. As it happened, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the people were pleased. So it was that Jesus and the others were out of harm’s way for a little while longer. Still, I wonder. Did Thomas continue to worry about what was to come or did he simply give thanks that this new miracle would keep them safe a while longer? I just don’t know. What I do know is that Thomas’ devotion to Jesus was absolute. After all, it was Thomas who was willing to stay with his beloved teacher and perhaps to meet his end in Bethany where Lazarus lived.

It seems to me that today’s gospel (John 20:19-31) illustrates Thomas’ bravery once again. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post-resurrection visit. Because the gospel fails to explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder further. Did bravery counter Thomas’ fear of the authorities? Did Thomas leave the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor for himself regarding the responses of the people to Jesus’ demise. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of Jesus outside of the others’ paralyzing fear. John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ first visit after he rose from the dead. Perhaps the other gospel writers saw something different in this disciple. As for me, I see Thomas as a man of thought and action whom Jesus wanted at his side. In the months and years afterward, scores of people heard the name of Jesus because Thomas spoke it to them. Many others came to understand forgiveness, compassion and mercy because Thomas shared his experience of these things with them. Thomas touched skeptical hearts because he once walked in their shoes. When Jesus returned to the disciples with Thomas among them, Jesus invited his friend to come closer. Thomas responded as only he could: “My Lord and my God!”

I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I walk in his shoes often. I understand his need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often need to do the same. While in Israel, I often became lost in my own thoughts regarding all that Jesus means to me. I understand Thomas’ elation when Jesus reached out to him. Throughout those days in the Holy Land and all of my life, Jesus has invited me to come and to see his great love for myself. Jesus extends the same invitation to all of us on this Second Sunday of Easter and again and again throughout our lives. Like Thomas, it is up to us to recognize Jesus and to respond, “My Lord and my God.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Memories… Memories…

“Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked
to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”

From Luke 24:32

Because we diligently chronicled our first trip to Israel, we have two albums which we lingered over after that trip and before we returned. We realize that this is the digital age and that we can enjoy our memories in full color on our laptop. Still, having them in hand is a luxury we’re not ready to give up. We keep all of our photo albums in our family room. This prompts visitors and us to enjoy them often. There’s no easier way to acknowledge our blessings on a regular basis.

Luke’s gospel tells us that Cleopas and his companion were confused by the stranger whom they met on the road to Emmaus. They had just left Jerusalem where Jesus had been crucified. It seemed everyone they knew was affected in some way by this tragedy, yet this man seemed to know nothing of it. Finally, when this stranger conjured up their memory of the breaking of the bread, they realized he was Jesus. This precious memory clarified everything!

Both of my visits to Israel have enriched me beyond words. Every time I open our albums, another precious memory enhances the moment at hand. As was the case for those fellows who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, my heart continues to burn within me.

Loving God, help me never to forget the wonder of your presence in my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Rejoice! Be Glad! Respond!

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we are more aware than ever of God’s unending love for us. The events of the first Easter plant seeds of unshakable hope in the hearts of all who have heard Jesus’ name. If we take nothing else from Jesus’ final days, we must at least begin to appreciate the joy which awaits us. Jesus suffered the worst our earthly existence has to offer, yet he endured. When Jesus breathed his last on that wooden cross, he opened his eyes once again to life with his Father. Today, Jesus continues to rejoice in the fruits of his thirty-three years among us. After we persevere through the seemingly tragic events of our lives, we will do as Jesus does. I write “Alleluia!” and “Rejoice and be glad!” because, when Jesus rose from the dead, he illustrated as precisely as possible all that awaits you and me.

This year, I began my Lenten Journey one month early. In mid-January, I returned to Israel for a second visit. This unexpected opportunity allowed me to delve a bit more deeply into the story behind the Holy Land’s now-familiar sites. This time, I felt very much at home in Nazareth and Magdala, at the Sea of Galilee, in Capernaum and Jerusalem. This time, I moved beyond my awe regarding these places to being completely rapt by Jesus himself. You know, Jesus literally made all of the difference in the world to humankind. Through his life among us, Jesus changed everything. As our guide shared the scriptures and his own archaeological and historical perspectives regarding Jesus’ time among us, I felt I had finally begun to understand. I began this reflection with an invitation to rejoice and be glad. It occurs to me that Jesus calls us to take one step further. Jesus asks that we rejoice and be glad and that we respond to his loving presence in our lives.

Whether we revisit Jesus’ time among us in the holy Land, in the scriptures or in the quiet of our hearts, we find innumerable examples of Jesus’ unconditional love. We also find that those whom Jesus touched responded in remarkable ways. Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well became extraordinary when she responded by accepting Jesus’ presence in her life. She was so taken with Jesus that she ran off to tell anyone who would listen of their encounter. When Jesus cured the man born blind, the man responded with deep gratitude and then shared his good fortune with all who would listen as well. He told not only his neighbors, but also the priests in the temple. While the priests responded by expelling the now-sighted man from his place of worship, the man left filled with absolute faith in God who had gifted him with new life. In every case, those Jesus healed responded by embracing their second chances with Jesus at their sides. Though he was crucified just three years into his ministry, Jesus remained with those he was given to love until they joined him in eternity.

Today, the love which brought peace to the woman at the well is extended to us. The love which gave sight to the man born blind invites us to see with new eyes as well. The love which transformed their lives is ours today. All that God asks on this Feast of Jesus’ Resurrection is that we rejoice and be glad and that we respond by welcoming God into our lives. Though we may not have invested ourselves in failed relationships and we may not suffer from physical blindness, we have all suffered in our own way. Whether physical maladies afflict us or our loved ones, their pain and the toll they take are very real. Though our physical vision may need only a tweak, we have all been blinded by our attitudes and our emotions, our desires and our regret. We have all failed to see God’s love for us at one time or another because our suffering has clouded our perspective. These are the times when God is most insistent that we look to the cross and remember that Jesus would have endured it all for any one of us.

In Jerusalem, I peered into the tomb which biblical scholars, historians and archeologists believe to be the burial site of Jesus. As I stared into the darkness, I imagined Mary Magdalene peering into this place on the first Easter morning. Though she didn’t yet realize that she had reason to rejoice and be glad, she had certainly responded to Jesus’ presence in her life. Nothing would have kept Mary from going to the tomb that morning to minister to the one who had changed her life forever. Today, we rejoice and are glad with Mary and the rest. Just as they did, we’ve come to understand and to celebrate because the life which comes after this life is worth all of our effort. Today, Jesus and all of those who have gone before us invite us to respond to this amazing news.

This is Easter Sunday and today we begin our own quests to live with the Risen Jesus at our sides. Today, we rejoice and we are truly glad! But, most of all, we respond wholeheartedly because Jesus remains with us through whatever will come our way today and always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rumbling In The Tomb

“Why do you search for the living one among the dead?
He is not here; he has been raised up.”

From Luke 24:5-6

It was our last day in Israel when we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem. Though I hadn’t thought of this beforehand, this timing was absolutely perfect! I was secretly proud of my husband and me because we’d endured the walking, climbing and other rigors of this second tour quite well. I was especially pleased because none of these “externals” had distracted me from the amazingly spiritual experience this trip had proven to be. I had many good reasons to rejoice when we visited that beautiful church.

Though archaeologists aren’t absolutely certain that this church houses either Jesus’ tomb or the place Jesus was crucified, the evidence supports this theory. The location is close-by and allowed the Romans to carry out their executions efficiently. The close proximity of passersby allowed a lesson to be given regarding the fate of those who chose to break Roman Law. Though there seems not to have been a specified place for executions, this location served its purpose in Jesus’ and his fellow victims’ case. None of this was particularly important to me because simply being in the vicinity of these events was enough.

In one way or another, I crossed Jesus’ path as he dragged himself to the place of his crucifixion. I also walked near the place where Joseph of Arimathea had given up his tomb for Jesus’ burial. As I considered these events, it occurred to me that though Jesus’ body lay wrapped from Friday until Sunday morning, Jesus himself was busy celebrating with his Abba over our good fortune. We would all soon realize that the end of this life isn’t the end after all!

Loving God, only you can draw such amazing good from even the worst of our evil-doing. Amen! Alleluia!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Thursday… Jesus’ Last Supper

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

I know I shared this just a few days ago, but I must return to Jerusalem and the monastery chapel next door to The Upper Room. I was deeply moved by my visit to the Upper Room though archaeologists are reasonably certain that this is not the location of Jesus’ Last Supper. That nearby monastery doesn’t claim to be this holy place either. Still, the life-size sculpture of the Last Supper certainly gave me reason to pause. While I was moved by the large figures 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!

Dear God, though I know what followed that meal, tonight I celebrate this time at table together.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved