In This Together With Jesus!

Sometimes, our worries overwhelm us so completely that we miss the joy that lingers within reach. We wonder where God can possibly be in all of this. Today, Luke, the masterful narrator, reminds us of how amazingly nearby God actually is…

In his gospel (Luke 24:13-35), Luke tells us that Cleopas and a friend left Jerusalem for Emmaus a few days after Jesus’ death. The two men were still reeling over the events of the past week. They shook their heads and fretted over what might have been and what had actually occurred. Jesus had offered such hope to the people! They rallied to welcome him when he arrived in Jerusalem. No one suspected that he would be crucified five days later. Then, as they mourned Jesus, some of the women reported seeing a vision of angels at his empty tomb. The disciples who ran to the tomb afterward found the scene just as the women had described it. When Cleopas and his companion embarked upon that seven mile walk to Emmaus, they puzzled over whether to mourn or to celebrate.

Just a short distance into their walk, the two encountered a stranger who confused them further. When this man acknowledged that he knew nothing of what had happened at Calvary, the two disciples wondered how anyone near Jerusalem could have missed the news of Jesus’ death. Little did these two realize that they knew far less of what had occurred than their new acquaintance did. After listening to Cleopas explain, the stranger responded with a few lessons of his own. He spoke of Moses and the prophets who followed Moses. He explained the references the prophets had made to the Christ. This stranger made it quite clear that what had happened should have been no surprise to those who studied the scriptures. This suffering was predicted as was the messiah’s glory. When the stranger completed his lesson, he prepared to leave Cleopas and his friend until they pressed him to stay and to share their evening meal. It was when they gathered at the table that the stranger broke bread just as Jesus had. How excited the two were when they recognized that Jesus had been with them all the while!

You and I have walked with Cleopas and his companion on occasion throughout our lives. Over the past forty or so days, we’ve had plenty of opportunity to shake our heads and to fret over developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Simply staying at home has been challenging for many of us, especially since there is so much to be done elsewhere. Troubles within our workplaces and the lack of jobs weigh heavily upon us. Illnesses that once seemed manageable have been exacerbated by our inability to keep up with once easy-to-access care. Those who battle emotional and spiritual illnesses too often have only themselves to rely upon. Healthcare workers and first responders on the front-line in this battle find themselves exhausted all of the time. Others who provide vital necessities such as food and gasoline and furnace repairs never signed up for such hazardous duty, yet they serve the rest of us bravely. The list of those called to serve above and beyond is very, very long.

During the Easter Season, we normally put our hearts and souls into living the joy that comes with knowing that life after this life is a reality for us. When the worst of our earthly woes threaten, we habitually return to God’s promise of better things to come for consolation. After all, Jesus gave us living proof that everything he endured was worth the new life he embraced afterward. Jesus went on to assure us that the same is true for us. No matter what this life entails, what comes afterward is worth it all. Still, this Easter Season, we find ourselves worrying and wondering. Like Cleopas and his friend, we reel with sadness as we puzzle over all of this. “Why? Why? Why?” we ask. Yet, like Cleopas and his companion, we don’t completely succumb to our fear. We could ignore those who need us, but we don’t. Like Cleopas, we look beyond our own needs to care for one another. It is in this caring that we celebrate Easter Joy after all.

When they realized that it was Jesus who had walked with them, Cleopas and his friend returned to Jerusalem to tell the others. How could they keep this good news to themselves? You know, our encounters with Jesus aren’t usually as dramatic as Cleopas’ experience, but today they are. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, news and other special programs continuously report the heroic efforts of people just like you and I. Like Cleopas and his friend, they hurry to individuals and families, to the ill and the needy to do what they can. Though the magnitude of need threatens to overwhelm, they persist. Like Cleopas and his friend, we really are in this together. And, as he was for Cleopas and his friend, Jesus is with us all the while.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Y… Yearning

My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul
cry out for the living God.

Psalm 84:3

Y is for Yearning. Sometimes, only God will do.

After retiring from his first career as a school principal, my husband worked as a hospice chaplain. This work touched him deeply. Though we consider ourselves to be “God-aware” people, this experience brought new depth in this regard to both of us. Mike observed often that, when a patient seemed to have lost every means of communication, he or she somehow managed to acknowledge prayer. Whether by squeezing a hand, blinking an eye, smiling ever so slightly or whispering an “amen”, each one became present when it was time to pray. Even some patients who endured comas seemed to breathe more calmly when those around them prayed. When all else was said and done, God remained present to each one.

Though most of us are not in need of hospice care at the moment, we are all in need of God. When no one else can comprehend our suffering, it is God who experiences every bit of it with us. When we cannot mouth a single word to explain, God understands. When we cannot breathe without shedding more tears, God is with us.

In times of suffering when I feel that no one understands my heartbreak, I feel completely alone for only a millisecond. Within that instant, I realize that God is with me and that, sometimes, only God will do.

Merciful and loving God, thank you for satisfying my yearning for your presence. Thank you for truly being God With Us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

H… Holy

Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.

1 Samuel 3:19

H is for Holy. The dictionary defines holy as belonging to or coming from God; sacred; consecrated. When I was a child, I was convinced that holy was an adjective attributed only to God and the saints of old who lived perfectly moral and upright lives. Though I hoped to be a saint one day by gaining admittance to heaven, I never expected to be considered holy on any level.

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to associate with people who understood holiness far more completely than I. They generously shared their conviction that anything and any one “of God” is holy. Since we and all of Creation are God’s handiwork, we are indeed holy. Just as God remained with Samuel and blessed him with a purposeful life, so God blesses you and me.

As I consider my personal bouts with discouragement and guilt, I find that I move beyond these things best when I remember that I am of God. I am holy. You are holy, too. No one else’s opinion, no failure, no guilt, nothing you or I can do will ever change this. You are of God and so am I. We are holy.

Loving God, how can we thank you for allowing us to share in your holiness? Perhaps we simply need to believe that we are truly holy and to live accordingly.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

F… Faith

God remembers forever the covenant
which God made for a thousand generations…

Psalm 105:8

F is for Faith. I learned very early on in my life that faith is a far greater gift than the various denominations which sometimes unite us and too often separate us. Faith is that sense deep within us which keeps us ever mindful of God’s presence in our lives. Whether we view God as a distant entity, a constant and nearby companion or as someone quite different from either, it is our faith which tells us that God is.

For me, faith is life-giving and life-saving. It seems to me that it is often the faith deep within us which urges us in the direction of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples in the first place. I find many precious people and many good things which nourish me in my faith community. Their presence feeds the faith deep within me which sustains me in the best and the worst of times. Sometimes, those who are not in touch with the faith deep within turn to our faith communities for guidance in unearthing this precious gift. I think that we help them best when we welcome them tenderly and without judgment. That tenderness may be the closest experience to God that they have had. That tenderness may be just what is needed to bring life to the faith that once lay dormant within them.

My faith in God is the most powerful catalyst in my life. When I welcome others into any aspect of my life with tenderness and without judgment, I share my faith and reveal a bit of God-the-Catalyst to them.

Faithful God, perhaps my faith in you is strong because your faithfulness to me and to all of your children is everlasting. Whatever our circumstance may be, help us all to remember that YOU ARE.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Jesus Transforms And So Should I

I’d just returned from numerous errands. Winter’s cold imposed a chill in spite of my warm coat. As I hurried into the house, I reassessed our Christmas decorations. Fraser fir needles threatened to overtake the living room carpet. Still, I whispered a compliment to our drooping tree. “You’ve served us well, dear one.” With that, I set aside my coat and sat by the tree for a while. Though I shivered in spite of the humming furnace, I forgot my discomfort as I perused that tree from top to bottom. When my eyes rested upon the crèche below it, I wondered what Mary and Joseph were doing two millenniums ago. What was their life like after the unsettling circumstances of Jesus’ birth faded? What sense did that poor couple make of the trials and tribulations of raising a baby boy destined to be anything but ordinary?

Our Christmas cards and carols offer peace-filled images of those early days. They tell us that angels sang on a silent night. Shepherds responded with awe. One drummer boy drummed. Night Wind asked Little Lamb, “Do you see what I see?” A more recent composition inquires, “Mary, did you know?” Beautiful as they are, our cards and carols overlook much of the reality of the first Christmas. These symbols of the season speak eloquently of Peace on Earth. Still, for Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ arrival was an emotional and trying time at best. The months and years which followed tested Jesus’ parents even more harshly.

On this Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we recall astrologers who traveled a long distance to find a very special child. The scriptures tell us that this trio amazed Mary and Joseph with their attention to Jesus. Did any of them realize the significance of that visit? When the Magi returned home with news of that long-awaited birth, they carried hope beyond the Jewish community to all the world. Sadly, their unprecedented act of faith came at a great price. When the Magi stopped at Herod’s palace to learn what he might have known about that newborn king, they alerted the tyrant to a possible threat to his throne. Fortunately, these three were indeed wise men. They heeded an angel’s warning and avoided Herod when they set out to their homeland. Nonetheless, while the Magi shared the good news of Jesus’ birth along their way, Herod slaughtered every Jewish boy under the age of two, except for one, to rid himself of his rival. So much for Peace on Earth!

Joseph, a wise man as well, also listened to an angel. That heavenly messenger directed Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The three remained there until Herod’s death. Though Joseph hoped to return to Judea, he found that Herod’s son occupied the throne. In the end, Joseph moved his family to Galilee and settled in Nazareth. There, Joseph and Mary raised Jesus to be devout in his faith and dedicated to his trade. The next mention of Jesus in the scriptures is a trip to Jerusalem during Passover. Jesus was twelve years old when he remained among temple scholars to study while his parents journeyed home only to return for him a few days later. After this passage, the gospels lapse once again until Jesus’ public ministry began when he was thirty years old. I can only imagine all that Mary and Joseph did to help Jesus to prepare for that day…

I admit that I lingered in the glow of our Christmas Tree for some time before beginning this writing. As I reflected upon Jesus’ birth and his encounter with the astrologers, I considered Jesus’ impact on this world of ours. You know, Mary and Joseph refocused their entire lives because of Jesus. The Magi altered their journey home to safely carry their news to places where it would otherwise have been unknown. In the years that followed, imagine how Nazareth evolved as little Jesus grew into a tradesman and itinerant preacher. Jesus’ preaching and those who listened to him eventually changed the course of human history. Knowing Jesus has changed the course of my life as well. Now what am I going to change?

My husband and I truly enjoy preparing our home for Christmas. Every light we string and ornament we hang speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. Everything we do speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. Everything we do testifies to Jesus’ presence in our lives far more than anything we might say. It seems to me that today’s feast invites us to consider if our lives’ “testimony” is all it can be. I’m grateful that we have all of New Year 2020 to find out and to adjust accordingly!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Reminder… Where To Turn

He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
From Matthew 8:17

I know that I addressed this topic yesterday, but another reminder has come my way…

I sat mindlessly tapping my fingers on the table. Troubling circumstances continued to entrench some people I knew with no end in sight. As I considered the situation, I realized that there was little I could do to alleviate any of the issues which plagued these dear people.

Just outside the window, a large robin plopped himself into our bird bath. That Robin was lucky to have found any water at all as the October cold has kept my husband from filling that bird bath for a while now. Regardless, the robin fluttered his wings for several seconds, splashing water every which way. Though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I remarked to my feathered friend, “It certainly doesn’t take much to make you happy!” Even before I finished that sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us. Just as that water waited, available for my robin friend when he chose to enjoy it, all that we need awaits us.

Being loved and cared for is the best any of us can hope for. Being loved and cared for makes everything we encounter do-able. Though branches and boulders clutter the road ahead, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we aren’t alone. God remains with us every step of the way. You know, my friends would more than survive their troubles!

Loving God, thank you for your continued presence and your unmistakable love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved