Alleluia!

“Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

Matthew 28:5-6

It’s Holy Saturday and Easter’s Eve. Still, I find myself reluctant to move beyond Jesus’ passion and death to celebrate his resurrection. At Lent’s onset, I promised myself that I would spend a bit of time every day getting up close and personal with God. I also promised to bring healing to this world. I hoped to do this for loved ones both nearby and far away. I’ve tried to give meaning to all of this by retracing Jesus’ steps through the last days of his life.

In the process, I’ve come to realize once again that Jesus suffered real pain, real loneliness, real uncertainty regarding his ministry, real fear and real disappointment. Still, when Jesus hanged from the cross, hope lingered and love prevailed. Though much of the world saw a despised failure nailed to that wood, those who knew Jesus knew better. Jesus knew better as well. Jesus reached beyond the skeptics and cynics to offer a place in heaven to the insurgent hanging beside him. Jesus offered the same to you and to me and to all of God’s children through everything he said and did.

This is Holy Saturday and Easter’s Eve. All is not well in the world, nor will it ever be. Nonetheless, all is well with God’s people. Jesus caused those rumblings in the tomb. Jesus returned from that tomb more alive than he had been since Bethlehem. Jesus came to reveal God’s love for us and to assure us that we too will live forever.

You know, I can move beyond Jesus’ suffering and I can sing “alleluia” after all. Jesus insists and I’m very happy to oblige him!

Loving God, Jesus is risen, your promises are fulfilled and eternal life awaits us all! Alleluia!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph
who… was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.
This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…
He took it down, wrapped it in fine linen and laid it in a tomb.

From Luke 23:50-53

The Fourteenth Stations: Jesus Is Laid In The Tomb

I know that I’ve repeated yesterday’s scripture passage. I’ve done so with good reason. Though Jesus’ body was respectfully wrapped and buried in the late afternoon on the day he died, the body of Jesus’ followers was left in far less comforting conditions. There was nothing heavenly or spell-bounding in Jesus’ death for those who could only stand by and watch as it occurred. They were filled with mournful terror as the last bit of life drained from their beloved. Jesus’ mother and the women who followed Jesus were likely swept away before the authorities could plot their demise. The disciples scattered as well in response to the same fear. While Jesus left his earthly body in that tomb to return to his true home, Mary and others hid in tombs of fear. Neither Mary nor Mary Magdalene, Peter or John or any of the others knew what to expect…

You and I are at an advantage as we consider The Fourteenth Station. You and I know that Easter morning came just thirty-six hours later. You and I know that when Mary Magdalene went to tend to Jesus’ tomb, she found Jesus himself there.

As we make our way toward Easter, let’s look for hints of Jesus in the eyes of those we help along the way.

Dear God, be with us as we do as Jesus did for one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Almost There!

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph
who… was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.
This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…
He took it down, wrapped it in fine linen and laid it in a tomb.

From Luke 23:50-53

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross

As I write, the morning’s clouds give way to a sunny afternoon. I’ve set aside my mourning for Jesus until Good Friday arrives. Today, as I consider the Thirteenth Station, I breathe a sigh of relief because Jesus’ work is finished, at least for a few days! The horror of Jesus’ death no longer haunts me. Though his body lay in that borrowed tomb for thirty-six hours or so, Jesus’ spirit didn’t rest a minute. Jesus spoke of a kingdom beyond this one and I’m quite certain that he made his way there as soon as the last bit of this life drained from him. As for me, I imagine that rumbling in the tomb which was so strong that it caused the stone at the entrance to roll away. I imagine Jesus reuniting with his Heavenly Parent before he returns to reunite with us.

Today, though thirteen days of Lent 2019 remain, I’ll smile and I’ll allow myself an anticipatory morsel of Easter Joy and everything that this joy entails…

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself to us through the life and lessons of Jesus. And thank you for continuing this effort through each one of us.

©2019 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

Easter Blessings

When I turned to John’s gospel (John 20:1-9) in preparation for this writing, my eyes filled up as I read: On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark… “Of course she did,” I told myself. A lifetime of devotion prompted this remark regarding Mary Magdalene’s behavior that first Easter morning. When my husband and I considered a possible trip to Israel, it was Magdala’s place on the itinerary which compelled me to embrace this opportunity. I couldn’t imagine a better way to become more closely acquainted with my childhood hero.

In Israel, when we disembarked from our bus in Magdala, I wasn’t disappointed. I quickly learned that this little town boasted an excellent economy in Jesus’ day. The booming fishing industry paved the way for a variety of merchants and artisans who occupied numerous shops in the marketplace. Nearby homes rested along streets arranged in grid-like fashion much like our own. Magdala’s close proximity to Nazareth likely enticed Jesus to begin his ministry there. I couldn’t hide my amazement as I looked upon the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus frequently taught. Perhaps Mary Magdalene had met Jesus there.

Scripture scholars tell us that Mary Magdalene was a woman of means who suffered from a serious illness. At the time, such afflictions were assumed to be caused by the sinfulness of their victims or by demons. That Mary maintained her stature and wealth in the midst of her suffering is a testament to her strong character. Though we don’t know the circumstances, Mary and Jesus met in Magdala and Jesus cured her. Perhaps Mary had heard enough about Jesus to lay her troubles at his feet and to trust in his intervention. Perhaps Jesus sought out the suffering Mary just as he sought out those in pain throughout his ministry. Whatever the circumstances, this encounter resulted in a lifelong friendship and Mary’s deep faith in Jesus. Mary responded by immersing herself in Jesus’ work and investing her resources in providing for Jesus’ and his disciples’ material needs.

I share all of this today because I think it was fitting that Mary Magdalene approached Jesus’ tomb so early that first Easter morning. The families of those who died visited their loved ones’ tombs three days after burial and, to Mary, Jesus was family. My visit to Magdala increased my understanding of this remarkable relationship. This encounter also revealed Mary Magdalene’s deep connection to us. Scriptures scholars call Mary an avid believer and perhaps Jesus’ closest follower. Mary Magdalene didn’t become a woman of means by hiding in the shadows. Mary’s bravery and devotion impelled her to do everything she did, including remaining with Jesus when rumblings of discontent filled the air around him. Our subsequent visit to the Upper Room in Jerusalem and a nearby church put everything into perspective for me. That room where Jesus ate his last supper induced a smile over all that Jesus had shared there. It also prompted my tears as I recalled all that followed. The nearby church featured a life-size sculpture of The Last Supper. Because this image drew me in, it took a moment for me to see the lone figure nestled in the shadows a few feet away. Mary Magdalene stood silently as Jesus extended his greatest gift to his unwitting disciples, to her and to us all.

This Easter morning, I find great hope for us in Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus. I think Mary would tell us that she was as flawed as the rest of us when she walked with Jesus. Still, Jesus loved her. It was this love which gave Mary the strength to remain with Jesus throughout his ministry and as he endured those long hours on the cross. Whenever you and I ignore the rumblings around us and set aside our own troubles to care for others, we do what Mary Magdalene did for Jesus. At the same time, Jesus does the same for us. Jesus brings us strength and his assurance that we are never alone.

My experience in Israel enriched my relationship with Mary Magdalene. More importantly, it nurtured my love for Jesus. With every step, I embraced Jesus’ path more fully. With every step, Jesus embraced me with the same friendship and love he offered his friend Mary so long ago. The compassion and unconditional love Mary Magdalene enjoyed two millenniums ago are yours as well, today and always. What better reason is there for us all to enjoy a most happy and blessed Easter?

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved