Peace Be With You!

“On Easter morning we can still feel the pains of the world, the pains of our family and friends, the pains of our hearts. Still, all is different because we have met Jesus and He has spoken to us. There is a simple, quiet joy among us and a deep sense of being loved by a love that is stronger, much stronger, than death…”

Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Embraced by God’s Love*

I truly appreciate Henri Nouwen’s words today because they speak to my own Easter experience. Like my friend Henri, I understand that life in this world will never be perfect. Though we’ve had more than two thousand years to contemplate the words and works of Jesus, we haven’t succeeded in fully taking these things to heart. Though we know so much more than Jesus’ disciples knew, many of us don’t respond any more hopefully to this life’s troubles than the disciples responded. Though we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead, we too often join the disciples in wondering what impact this event actually has upon us. We share the disciples’ relief that Jesus is among us once again. Still, we wonder. Peter and the rest actually saw Jesus. You and I haven’t seen him, at least not as clearly as they did. So it is that I find consolation in the scriptures which tell us that, in spite of Jesus’ appearances, the disciples locked up themselves in fear. Not one of them wanted to be the next to hang on a cross. Like the disciples, we attempt to keep ourselves safe as well. We concern ourselves with the things of this world. What is worse is that we keep our concerns to ourselves rather than sharing them with God who truly understands.

The good news on this Easter Sunday is that Jesus appreciated what the disciples had been through just as he understands our troubles today. Jesus knows our fear. Do you remember how earnestly Jesus prayed in the garden after his last supper? Jesus knew that the disciples longed for forgiveness and he recognizes our need to make things right. Remember the father of the prodigal son? When Jesus assured the people that this father forgave everything, he offered a perfect example of the way God forgives us. Jesus knew that when he lost his life his friends lost their hope. Jesus also knows that when life devastates us, it is difficult for us to hold on. So it is that Jesus arrived that first Easter with the words his friends needed to hear most, “Peace be with you!” So it is that Jesus repeats this greeting in the alleluias that greet us today.

You know, if we could see into the hearts of those gathered with us on this Easter Sunday as God sees, we would find unimaginable joy and unimaginable suffering. While joy is tangible in smiles and dancing eyes, suffering hides in quiet comings and goings. Some have joined us today without a wife or a husband, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter or a dear friend who left this world too soon. Some pray for a dying loved one. Some have joined us this Easter Sunday in the grips of a failing marriage or without a paycheck. Some are so lonely that they will try to ignore Easter after they leave church today to avoid the pain. Some will listen to the alleluias ring out while others sing “alleluia” again and again for you and me in spite of their conviction that God cannot possibly intend Easter Joy to be theirs. Some struggle with worry over their children. Some battle illnesses that seem to be winning the war. Some sit among us in sadness, unable to explain even to themselves why they feel the way they do. God, who refuses to leave us alone in good times and in bad, repeats once again the words we most need to hear: “Peace be with you!” God speaks these words as he nestles beside us in whatever our circumstances happen to be at the moment. It is these words which fuel the quiet joy within me because they assure me that I am loved.

Henri Nouwen spent a lifetime in search of the quiet joy and the love of which he often wrote. You and I are here today because we seek the same. We have come because Jesus offers us hope greater than those who came before him could ever have imagined. When Jesus rose from the dead, everything changed. Jesus transformed our hope in the things to come into the knowledge that eternal happiness awaits us all. When we leave church this Easter Sunday, our circumstances will remain the same. What changes is the manner in which we deal with the realities of life. We’ve been reminded that we no longer face these things alone. When we leave church this Easter Sunday, we are encouraged and strengthened by the peace that comes in the loving and compassionate presence of Jesus. Yes, in spite of the fact that everything is not perfect today, I am joyful because God loves me. May God bless you abundantly with the same certainty! Peace be with you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Nouwen, Henri J.M., Embraced by God’s Love (Calendar), Garborg’s, Bloomington, MN, 1998, p. 97

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Look Beyond The Fog…

While spending the day with our grandsons, three-year-old Danny and I engaged in a discussion regarding fog. Danny lives a bit closer to Lake Michigan than Grandpa and I do. So it is that he awakes to foggy mornings more often than we. That morning, I’d remarked to Danny that, though we had no fog at all in Gurnee, his neighborhood was covered with it. Danny, who is intrigued by new information of every sort, shared with me what his teacher had taught him a few days earlier: “You need water to have fog. We live by Lake Michigan, so we get to have fog.” Though I was tempted to add that a collision of warm air and cold air also has something to do with fog’s formation, I thought better of it. Danny’s observation that “we get to have fog” was far more important than any explanation of meteorological processes which I might have offered. Ever since, I’ve been mulling over the possibility that I haven’t viewed the fog in my life with Danny’s appreciative anticipation.

Today, John’s gospel (11:1-45) describes the fog which engulfed Jesus’ relationship with some dear friends. Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus loved Jesus very much. They listened carefully to his every word. They internalized Jesus’ teaching and took all that he said to heart. This is the reason Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus when they realized the seriousness of their brother’s illness. There was nothing more they could do than to place the ailing Lazarus in Jesus’ care. By the time Jesus arrived, however, Lazarus had died. When she saw Jesus approach, Martha ran from her home to meet him. She told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus replied with talk of the resurrection on the last day and, though Martha acknowledged this, she seemed to be asking for something more. A few minutes later, Mary also ran to Jesus. When she fell at his feet, Mary echoed her sister’s words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary said nothing more. She’d stated the truth of the matter and that was that. Did Martha and Mary see possibilities lying beyond that fog?

Throughout my own painful stretches, I’ve tried to emulate Martha and Mary. I’ve echoed, “Lord, if you had been here, if you had been watching, if you were really paying attention, none of these things would have happened!” Unfortunately, my imitation of Martha and Mary has been lack-luster at best. Though I’ve enumerated my woes with their passion, I’ve failed to do so with their faith. Martha and Mary were good Jewish women who lived by the teachings of their faith. These sisters were also attentive followers of Jesus. They liked what Jesus had to say and they lived out his message in their daily lives as best they could. They trusted this one who had come to be known as a prophet, healer and miracle worker. More importantly, they loved this man of God who had demonstrated God’s mercy and unconditional love in ways they’d never experienced before. I noted above that Martha and Mary seemed to be asking for something for Lazarus beyond Jesus’ assurances regarding life after this life. Somehow, they knew Jesus could and would do more. As for me, I have an advantage over Martha and Mary. Though they walked with Jesus, looked into his eyes, heard his voice and felt his hand upon their shoulders, they didn’t know the outcome of Jesus’ work. Two thousand years and generations of believers later, I know that outcome, yet I become fearful. I know the outcome of Jesus’ work, yet I fail to anticipate what lies beyond the fog.

Perhaps this is what Danny met when he said, “We get to have fog.” Those blurry times, when seeing what lies ahead is difficult, aren’t a curse after all. They’re simply an opportunity to make our way through the fog because a clearer view always await us on the other side. So it is that I’ve changed my litany. Now I pray, “Lord, I know you love me. I know you watch over me with great care. You know my suffering and the suffering of those you’ve given me to love and you’re with us through it all.” When, I close with my “Amen”, the weight of the world lifts from my shoulders. Danny has taught me about the possibilities that come with each new day’s fog and with all of our worries. When we hand them over to God, we open ourselves to the clear skies which await us.

This is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. We’ll celebrate Easter in just two weeks. Until then, difficulties near and far will threaten to cloud our days. Whether fog engulfs our own homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods or the other side of this world, let’s respond with Martha’s and Mary’s certainty. God will be with us through it all! Though Jesus’ suffering will be our focus on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week, let’s remember the acts of love and compassion which preceded that suffering. In all that he said and did, Jesus led those he touched through the fog of their suffering into the light of God’s love. These last days of Lent and always, God simply asks that we see the opportunities which lie beyond the fog around us and that we embrace the love we find there.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More Than A Statistic

There was an inscription over his head:
THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

From Luke 23:38

The Ninth Station: Jesus Falls The Third Time

Jerusalem is an extremely busy place. It was the same in Jesus’ day. Though I can’t imagine ignoring the approach of a bloodied man carrying a cross beam, many who went about their business that dark Friday did just that. The ominous presence of Roman soldiers kept busy business people and shoppers on their own way and off Jesus’ path. If they noticed, none had the courage to respond when Jesus fell. No one cared that this one was far more than the King of the Jews.

When I walked the streets of Jerusalem the first time, I was taken by the narrowness of those busy byways. Oddly, the locals navigated between and around one another quite easily. I wondered if we tourists were simply a part of the landscape to which they’d become accustomed. When I turned my thoughts back to Jesus’ day, I wondered further. Was Jesus just a part of the landscape as well? Was Jesus just another statistic in the vast database of Roman cruelty?

As for you and me, whether we’re standing upright or crumpled under the weight of our troubles, God takes notice. We’re never a statistic in God’s database. We’re on God’s mind and in God’s heart… ALWAYS!

Dear God, you love us more than we realize. Help us to share that love with those we meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Lifts Us Up

The people stood there watching
and the leaders kept jeering at him…

From Luke 23:55

The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls The Second Time

When I was in The Holy Land, I walked in the vicinity of Jesus’ trek to his own crucifixion. I learned that the walk to Golgotha wasn’t as long as one might think. The Romans carried out their crucifixions fairly close to the city gates, perhaps for their own security. We don’t know how often Jesus fell under that crossbeam. Still, I feel certain that he fell. Again, I wonder why he got up.

I’ve shared over the past several months that I’d had an encounter with my own variety of suffering. Though this experience was nothing in the shadow of Jesus’ passion, I struggled just the same. It seemed that every time I felt I’d overcome my misery, a tiny reminder crept up to insist that this wasn’t the case. Still, when I lay under the weight of each relapse, God’s presence around me and within me urged me up to try again. I can only imagine that Jesus sensed the same every step of the way. During his life among us, Jesus took every opportunity to steal away from the crowds to seek his Beloved Parent’s company. When he fell under the weight of that wood, it was only natural for Jesus to turn to the One who knew every detail of his suffering. It was only natural for that One to respond. Jesus got up because of the Divine Presence which accompanied him.

Every time the trials and tribulations of this life cause us to fall, God who endures our suffering with us urges us up as well.

Loving God, thank you for your good company.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Choose To Get Up

But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole.

Isaiah 53:5

The Third Station: Jesus Falls Under the Weight of the Cross

It isn’t hard to imagine Jesus falling beneath the weight of that cross. What is unfathomable is that he got up, not once, but likely several times.

I shudder as I consider the many times I’ve tried to walk away from the difficulties which have come my way. “If only this or if only that,” I tell myself. Sometimes, I turn these laments into prayer. After all, God is all-powerful; God can certainly remove my burdens. It is then that I picture Jesus struggling with that merciless wood which scrapes across his bleeding back. In spite of the pain, Jesus holds on.

You know, God created each one of us with free will. Of what value would our acts of kindness and forgiveness and love be if we were programmed to do these things? No, God has left it up to us to evolve into our highest selves. So it is that I will face today as Jesus faced that terrible Friday so long ago. So it is that I will face what this day brings with a morsel of Jesus’ courage and his love.

Loving God, help me to see every challenge as an opportunity to bring my best self to the moment.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Forgive and Heal…

His father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

Forgiveness is a tough topic. Forgiveness is multifaceted. It includes giving and receiving forgiveness from others and giving and receiving forgiveness from ourselves. Though I once thought forgiving others is the tough part, I’ve discovered that receiving the forgiveness of others is difficult as well. Most difficult I think is accepting forgiveness from myself. When I accept forgiveness from anyone, I acknowledge that I’ve done wrong. This isn’t easy…

I’ve wrestled with forgiveness since childhood. As a child, I judged myself. This judgment was harsh and final. Because I viewed myself this way, it was difficult to accept that anyone else would view me more lovingly. It was only when I looked to Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son that I finally understood. That young man’s father echoed what God has spoken to each one of us since we took our first breaths: Silly child! I canceled your entire debt long before you turned my way for forgiveness. Dear child, deal as mercifully with yourself as I deal with you. Deal as mercifully with your sisters and brothers as I deal with you! Forgive and be healed!

Jesus’ parable says it all. We are a much-loved and generously forgiven people. With that knowledge in hand, God invites us to for give when necessary and to heal one another and this world as only we can!

Loving God, thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved