God’s Promise to Us All

This morning, I reluctantly disposed of a drooping Easter bouquet. As I pulled the stems from their vase, I remarked, “I wish you’d lasted as long as the Easter grass. I’ll be picking up that stuff for at least another month.” Apparently, the flowers had no life left in them because they failed to respond to my remark. As I washed the vase, a tiny green flicker caught my eye. Once again, I spoke. “Where did you come from?” The lone strand of Easter grass lying on the kitchen counter said nothing. I decided to end this conversation before my dear husband came in to see to whom I was speaking. Rather, I explored the rest of the kitchen and family room in search of more Easter grass. Since I’d prepared our grandchildren’s Easter Baskets in those rooms, I thought I’d confined the green stuff to the first floor of our house. After vacuuming, I determined that I’d finally seen the end of those green cellophane strands.

On my way up to the study to begin this writing, a strand of green greeted me at the top of the stairs. “How did you get all the way up here?” I asked. Still, no answer. While changing loads of laundry between paragraphs, I encountered green strands next to the dryer. When I went to my closet to hang some of the clean laundry, green strands near the shoe rack greeted me. Though I’ve been up and down the stairs a hundred times since Easter, I never carried an Easter Basket along for the ride. It occurs to me as I sit here that I’ll be vacuuming up Easter grass for some time. Even the needles from our Christmas Trees never make it upstairs to the bedrooms, so why is it that Easter grass ends up all over the house? I looked upward as I posed that question…

Dear, dear God, what a sense of humor you have! Thank you for speaking to me so simply. As I discover another bit of Easter grass –this one lying under my chair– I realize what a gift I have in these pesky green strands. Though we celebrated just days ago, Easter seems distant from the busyness and worries of this particular day. So it is that you speak to me through the trail of Easter grass in my path. Each strand I find brings me back to that remarkable day. Yes, it is in Jesus’ life among us, his death and his rising that I find the promise of new and everlasting life for the rest of us. These strands of green cellophane aren’t annoyances after all, are they? You’ve given them to me as gentle reminders that the joy and promise of Easter are with me today and always just as you are!

There you have it! For the gazillionth time in human history, God reveals the joy of Easter and the promise of eternal life in a common human experience. God is using these lovely green cellophane strands to remind me that the joy and promise of Easter remain with me every single day. I assume the timing of this realization is God’s insistence that I share this news with you. As I continue to write, I wonder further. With these wonderful reminders at my fingertips, why do I lose sight of God’s promises and God’s love when the going gets tough?

Today, John’s gospel (20:19-31) references Thomas who also seemed to have been searching to discover what Jesus’ life and death meant for him. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post resurrection visit. Though John didn’t explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder. Was it Thomas’s search for meaning in all that had happened which coaxed him from the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor on his own. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of his friend without the distraction of the others who mourned in fear. You know, John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ appearance. Did the other gospel writers see something different in this disciple? As for me, I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I often walk in his shoes.

The truth is that I understand Thomas’s need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often have need to do the same. I also understand Thomas’s elation when he finally saw the resurrected Jesus for himself. Though I continue to fret about things which I need to let go, like Thomas, I’ve also found the courage to turn my eyes upward and to recognize what Thomas did when he saw Jesus. It is at those discouraging times that I echo Thomas: My Lord and my God, you love me! My Lord and my God, you’re with me! My Lord and my God, everything will be as it should because of you!

Today, as we continue to celebrate Easter, let’s all take notice of God who is always present among us and within us. Trust me. Whether through the amazing people who love us, the wonders of Creation, a bit of written inspiration, a great song, a hopeful bit of worship alone or with this community, or a strand of green cellophane Easter grass, our Lord and our God insists, “I am with you!”

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Thomas The Brave

This week after Easter, I find myself grateful that my Lenten to-do list has been recycled. In the interest of efficiency, I allowed myself a single sheet of paper which I eventually covered with scribbled notations and check marks. If I had not done so, half of what I needed to accomplish would have been forgotten. I neglected to ask myself if these omissions would actually have made a difference to anyone else. Of course, this was of no consequence. I’d determined what I needed to do and that was that! As a result, my journey through Lent 2016 was at best distracting and most often discouraging to me. Many things beyond my control disrupted “normalcy” as I know it. Though I tried to respond with some semblance of resignation, I found myself hapless and helpless much of the time. In the end, I attempted to repair what I could and to let the rest go. In the process, I realized that I was a little off. Though I’m usually well aware of the Almighty’s presence in my life, I lost sight of our benevolent God as I plodded along toward Easter.

When I read the gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, it occurred to me that my Lenten experience wasn’t much different from that of poor Thomas. 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. 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 recently tried to stone him in that very place. When Jesus explained his timing, it was Thomas who spoke up. Thomas told the others, “Let us also go and die with him.” Thomas said this in spite of the fact that he had no idea of what was in store for them. 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 the moment. 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? We will never know. What we do know is that Thomas’ devotion to Jesus is certain. After all, it was Thomas who invited the others to go to meet their end with their beloved teacher.

Today’s gospel (John 20:19-31) suggests Thomas’ bravery once again. Thomas missed Jesus’ first visit after rising from the dead. Though John’s gospel fails to explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder further. Could it be that bravery trumped Thomas’ fear of the authorities? Perhaps Thomas left 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. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of his friend without the distraction of the others who mourned in fear. You know, 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. Scores of people would never have heard the name of Jesus if Thomas hadn’t spoken it to them. Many others would not have understood forgiveness, compassion and mercy if Thomas hadn’t 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 the second time, Thomas stood among them. When Jesus invited him to come closer, Thomas responded in a strong voice: “My Lord and my God!” Whatever Thomas questioned before this encounter became certainty the moment Thomas moved near enough to Jesus to touch him.

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. I also understand Thomas’ elation when Jesus reached out to him. Though my angst remained with me until the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper began on Holy Thursday Night, it disappeared the moment I settled into my pew to pray. Finally, I experienced God’s presence in those who had come to pray with me, at the altar we’d prepared for this special meal, in the hymns which encouraged me to sing from the depths of my heart, in the words of scripture which recounted Jesus’ last days among us. Finally, I set aside my to-do list and embraced my dear sweet Lord who had been with me all the while. Finally, I found Thomas’ wisdom and courage as I whispered with great gratitude, “My Lord and my God.”

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Brave Thomas

A few weeks before Easter, I referenced John’s account (11:1-45) of the raising of Lazarus. At the time, Jesus preached among the people until his final return to Jerusalem. Though word came that Lazarus neared death, Jesus remained where he was for a few more days. He told his disciples that Lazarus’ condition would eventually bring glory to God. The disciples likely breathed a sigh of relief in response, not so much because God would be glorified, but because their inevitable demise had been delayed a bit longer. When Jesus finally led them to visit Lazarus, the disciples quickly reminded Jesus that the people had attempted to stone him the last time he appeared there. When Jesus explained his timing once again, Thomas responded “Let us also go and die with him.” I have read this account numerous times, yet I failed appreciate Thomas’s remark until now.

As we know, Jesus and the rest arrived after Lazarus’ death and Jesus did glorify God with when he raised Lazarus. Though Jesus and his followers escaped harm’s way for the moment, I wonder if Thomas continued to worry about what lay ahead. Or, did he simply give thanks that this miracle pleased the people and ensured Jesus’ safety a while longer? In the depths of his heart, did Thomas believe Jesus would die and that he might join him on a cross or did Thomas hope that Jesus’ kingdom would indeed come? We will never know in this life. What we do know is that Thomas’s devotion to Jesus remained throughout all of this. Remember, it was Thomas whose courage prompted him to invite the others to “…go and die with him.”

After visiting Lazarus’ family, Jesus and the disciples traveled on to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Ecstatic over Jesus’ presence, the people gave him a royal welcome. Though the other disciples were caught up in this moment of glory, I wonder what Thomas was thinking. John’s gospel does not mention Thomas again until the last supper when Jesus told his friends that he would prepare a place for them and welcome them into his kingdom. It was then that Thomas exhibited his courage once again when he asked what the others were likely afraid to voice: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth and the life; you will come to the Father through me…” I wonder if this was enough to get Thomas through the next few days?

Nothing more is written of Thomas until John 20:19-31, when John tells us that Thomas was absent for Jesus’ first appearance among the disciples. Far removed from the throngs who a few days earlier demanded Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples felt certain that they would find themselves on crosses as well, so they hid. Thomas, however, was not among them. Did Thomas’s courage empower him to find out for himself what the people were saying about their crucified Teacher? When Thomas eventually returned to their hiding place, he refused to believe that Jesus had appeared. Thomas went so far as to challenge Jesus himself by insisting that he would believe only after he touched the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and the wound in Jesus’ side. When Jesus returned to show himself to Thomas, the poor man fell at Jesus’ feet and prayed, “My Lord and my God.”

I share my thoughts regarding Thomas because I have found myself walking in his troubled shoes more often than I have liked as of late. My Lenten Journey was at best distracting and most often discouraging. Many things beyond my control disrupted the lives of the people I love as well as my own. Though I tried to walk their journeys and “…to go and die” with them, I found myself hapless and helpless. Though I followed Thomas’s lead often, asking, “Lord, we do not know where you are going,” I failed to listen to the Lord’s answers. Rather, I went on my own way, attempting with all my might to repair whatever it was that had gone awry. It was as though I needed to put my fingers into the nail holes and my hand into his side before I would realize that our Lord was very much aware of what was occurring around me.

Fortunately, my experiences this past Lent paralleled those of Thomas in the most important way of all. Though I was absent to many of our dear Lord’s attempts to be present in my life, the Lord God was not absent from me. When I finally noticed God’s presence in the support of my family and friends, in the kindness of a stranger, in the words of scripture and in the strength that suddenly welled up from within when I needed it most, I realized that all would be well in the end.

In the face of whatever is lacking in our lives and in our hearts, we must echo the words of Thomas and pray, “My Lord and my God.” For, indeed, God is with us in everything!

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Second Sunday of Easter

This morning, I reluctantly disposed of a drooping Easter bouquet. As I pulled the stems from my vase, I remarked, “I wish you lasted as long as the Easter grass. I’ll be picking up that stuff for at least another month.” Apparently, the flowers had no life left in them because they failed to respond to my remark. As I washed the vase, a tiny green flicker caught my eye. Once again, I spoke. “Where did you come from?” The lone strand of Easter grass lying on the kitchen counter said nothing. I decided to end this conversation before my dear husband came in to see to whom I was speaking. Instead, I explored the rest of the kitchen and family room in search of more Easter grass. Since I had prepared our granddaughters’ Easter Baskets in these rooms, I thought I had confined the green stuff to the first floor of our house. Since I had already vacuumed, perhaps I had finally seen the end of those green cellophane strands.

On my way up to the study to begin this writing, a strand of green greeted me at the top of the stairs. “How did you get all the way up here?” I asked. Still, no answer. While changing loads of laundry between paragraphs, I encountered green strands next to the dryer. When I returned to my closet to hang some of the clean laundry, green strands near the shoe rack greeted me. Though I have been up and down the stairs a hundred times since Easter, I did not carry an Easter Basket along for the ride. Even the needles from our Christmas Trees never make it upstairs to the bedrooms, so why does the Easter grass end up all over the house? It occurs to me as I sit here that I will be vacuuming up Easter grass for some time.

Dear, dear God, what a sense of humor You have! Thank You for speaking to me so simply. As I discover another bit of Easter grass –this one lying under my chair– I realize what a gift I have in these pesky green strands. Though we celebrated just days ago, Easter seems distant from the busyness and worries of this day. So it is that You speak to me through the trail of Easter grass in my path. Each strand I find brings me back to that remarkable day. Yes, it is in the dying and rising of Jesus that I find the promise of new and everlasting life with You. These strands of green cellophane are not annoyances after all, are they? They are gentle reminders that the joy and promise of Easter are with me today and always!

There you have it! For the gazillionth time in human history, the joy of Easter and the promise of eternal life with God are revealed in a common human experience. God uses these lovely green cellophane strands to insure that the joy and promise of Easter remain with me and all of us every single day. With these wonderful reminders at my fingertips, why do I lose sight of this promise when the going gets tough?

John’s gospel (20:19-31) offers the familiar tale of Thomas who also seemed to have difficulty remembering what Jesus’ life and death are about. When Jesus first appeared after his death, Thomas was absent. When Thomas returned, reports of the living Jesus overwhelmed him. Perhaps Thomas could not envision his resurrected Lord because his pain was too great. Thomas knew that he failed to protect Jesus from those who arrested him. Thomas knew he avoided the cross where Mary, Mary Magdalene and John kept watch. Thomas knew he abandoned Jesus when Jesus needed him most. Thomas likely felt completely inconsolable and completely unforgivable, familiar feelings to us all from time to time.

Later, when Jesus returned, he extended to Thomas the comfort and peace he had offered the other disciples. Though Jesus seemed to chastise Thomas for his lack of faith, Jesus knew well that the others had also walked in Thomas’s shoes over the past few days. “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?” How many times had Jesus reminded the disciples of his mission when they became caught up in the moment? How many times must we be reminded of the promise of Easter? If God spoke to me through a bit of Easter grass each time I needed this, my entire house would be carpeted with green cellophane strands!

It is up to us this Sunday after Easter and always to take notice of the signs of joy and hope in our daily routines. We must use everything at our disposal –even strands of green cellophane– to celebrate the promise of Easter. Most importantly, we must hold onto that promise until it is fulfilled in you and me.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved