We’re Shepherds All!

When I heard familiar voices outside, I grabbed my hoodie and headed to the front door. Neighbors had been marooned out of town since the onset of our stay-at-home attempts to control the Corona Virus. They’d finally made it home and were wearily, but happily unpacking their car. I yelled from across the lawn to welcome them back to the neighborhood. My neighbor Kathy had come out to do the same. In the midst of it all, she looked in my direction to say, “You know, I don’t know what day it is any more. Since we can’t go to church, I’ve lost my bearings. Sunday used to be my anchor day. Now, I don’t know. It’s tough.” At first, I was surprised by Kathy’s comment. Because I’ve continued to post on my blog every day, I’ve adhered to a schedule of sorts. The writing, the online liturgies streamed from so many of our churches, as well as my ongoing conversation with our patient God have apparently kept me more grounded than I realized.

After bidding my neighbors farewell, I returned to my keyboard to begin this writing. When I reread today’s passage from John’s gospel (John 10:1-10), I recalled that Jesus’ contemporaries had lost their bearings as well. They had also lost access to the anchor which should have kept them grounded. This passage tells us that Jesus was angry as he spoke on that particular day because his troubled neighbors had no one to turn to in their suffering. They should have been able to go to the temple to pray for consolation and to seek counsel from the priests and scribes there. The people should have found comfort simply by being in that holy place. Rather, the Pharisees had manipulated The Law to own their benefit. They had imposed rules of every sort which limited the people’s access to their worship space, to the temple staff and to God. The virus which threatened in Jesus’ day had replaced compassion with control and had denied God’s comfort to those who needed it most.

Jesus responded to the situation by calling those who truly wished to serve the people to emulate shepherds. Though the temple authorities looked down upon shepherds because their jobs prevented them from adhering to the letter of The Law, Jesus held up shepherds as ideal examples of leadership, caring and love. The shepherds of Jesus’ day spent long hours in fields with their herds. Though they lacked education and power of any sort, they were key to the prosperity of wealthy sheep owners. Jesus reminded the people that shepherds dutifully guarded and nurtured the sheep in their charge. Every sheep knew its keeper’s voice, keenly aware of the special call only he could produce to beckon it to his side. When it came time to be led in or out of the pasture, each sheep followed the voice it had come to know and to trust. Whether a flock numbered in the hundreds or could be counted on the fingers of one hand, the shepherd’s guidance was essential to each animal’s survival. Jesus expected no less of those entrusted with God’s people. Jesus lost his patience in the temple that day because the Pharisees and their company had lost sight of their mission to anchor God’s people by lovingly shepherding them.

I think my neighbor felt that she’d lost her bearings because she thought she had lost access to the anchor she’d found at her parish church. It occurs to me that, without realizing it, Kathy has become the anchor she longed for. She listened compassionately as our friends described their lengthy isolation in cramped quarters. In the midst of admirable social distancing, Kathy and her husband provided refreshments since the returning couple was greeted by both an empty house and an empty refrigerator. Kathy had certainly provided the welcome which Jesus expected the temple staff to provide two millenniums ago. What a great example of shepherding Kathy was!

It seems that Easter Season 2020 will continue to be filled with moments of uncertainty and solitude for us all. The good news is that we will endure these difficult times in very good company. Our Good Shepherd reassures us all that none of us suffer alone. Kathy felt that she’d lost her anchor because it has come to her in a different form these days. Rather than finding solace and peace in the church building and the people whom she’s come to love there, Kathy has become the anchor where those things abide for others. In the rare event that she falters in her new role, Jesus will lift her up onto his shoulders and carry her through. You and I are invited to be anchors for one another as well. If you’re wondering how you might proceed, think of Kathy’s kindness and respond as she did to those you’ve been given to love. However we support our loved ones though this COVID-19 ordeal, as he does for my dear neighbor, Jesus will be with us to shepherd us every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Loved…

Jesus said, “Peace be with you! Why are you disturbed?”
From Luke 24:16-17

Twelve sturdy blossoms beckon me. While dodging other masked and gloved shoppers, my dear husband couldn’t resist the single bouquet of yellow tulips which seemed to be calling his name. When he arrived home, he placed them in a vase. He checked their water every day. Though he’d purchased them eight days before Easter, the flowers were as beautiful as ever on Easter morning. “You’re strong and amazing,” I observed, fully expecting a satisfied nod in return. Though the blossoms stood motionless, I hoped they somehow realized my gratitude for their beautiful and enduring presence.

Though my reflections regarding our trips to Israel are coming to a close, the impact of these wonderful experiences remain with me. Just as my husband’s care preserved his precious flowers for more than a week, God has nurtured me though my experiences in Israel and through every moment with which I’m blessed. God has also nurtured me through these difficult days. The truth is that God nurtures us all through everything!

You and I are much like my husband’s tulips in God’s eyes. Though they will likely last only another day, their remarkable stamina will remain with me. Their presence these days after Easter is a lingering reminder of God’s presence in all of our my lives. Just as my husband singled out that bouquet to bring a bit of Easter joy into our house, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love and especially during times such as these…

Dear God, thank you for the many surprising ways you remind us that we are loved, even in the midst of this pandemic!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate Easter… Really!

Then they recounted what had happened on the road and
how they had come to know him in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:35

Of all the places we visited throughout our trips to Israel, Emmaus is a favorite. Emmaus provides weary pilgrims who venture there a peaceful interlude. The grounds of St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey are both tranquil and full of life. The abbey is located in the Muslim village of Abu Gosh along one of the oldest roads linking Jerusalem to the coast. When we arrived, several young people had gathered there for a program. Still, this didn’t diminish the tranquility which embraced us when we arrived.

After allowing us time to enjoy the outdoors, our guide ushered us into the historic church. Beautiful as it was, Yossi assured us that more awaited us on the lower level. It was there that we discovered an ancient stream which flowed freely as it had in Jesus’ day. Listening to the same the soothing rush of water which Jesus’ contemporaries heard was a gift to be cherished.

The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus aren’t the only ones gifted with such encounters. Whenever we open ourselves to one another and to the beauty around us, we cannot help meeting God. This is the reason we must celebrate Easter in the midst of our battle against COVID-19. What occurred to Jesus after he was laid in that tomb is meant to inspire us all! God promises you and me no less than Jesus’ Easter miracle. Difficult as these days may be, it is Easter hope which should set the tone for these and all of the days of our lives. Even on the worst of these days, it really does help me!

Loving God, reveal a bit of yourself to each of us every day!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always With Us!

“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 my husband diligently chronicled our trip to Israel with wonderful photographs, we purchased two albums for his handiwork. We realize that in this the digital age we can enjoy our memories in full color on our laptop. Still, having them in hand where we can linger over each one is a luxury we’re not ready to give up. We keep our photo albums on display in our family room. This prompts visitors and us to enjoy them often.

While looking through those albums one stay-at-home day, I came across photos of the church and monastery we visited in Emmaus. I also revisited Luke’s gospel which tells us about Cleopas and his companion who had just left Jerusalem and traveled along a road to Emmaus. It wasn’t long after Jesus’ death and they were discussing all that had happened during those dark days. As they walked, they encountered a stranger. Though everyone they’d met in Jerusalem was affected in some way by Jesus’ death, this man seemed to know nothing of it. After explaining along the way, this man offered his sense of those events. When trio eventually stopped to eat together, this stranger broke bread just as the disciples said Jesus had done. Cleopas and his friend immediately realized who this stranger was. Jesus had been with them all the while!

Throughout what remains of this COVID-19 era and for a long time afterward, we will have ample opportunity to discuss all that is and has occurred. Between those conversations, we’ll do our best to keep ourselves and our loved ones safely at home. Hopefully, we’ll also find the time to pray. It seems to me that every time we take the time to talk to God, we become more certain, like Cleopas and his friend, that God is with us all the while!

Loving God, help us never to forget that you are with us in everything!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

He’s With Us

“Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know
the things that went on here these past few days?”

From Luke 24:17

It was almost two weeks after we returned from Israel when I finally shook my jet-lag. At that point, I was able to look back to savor this experience. I simply had to share this amazing adventure through these posts. In the process, I’ve revisited each site and every encounter with Israel’s people. I truly hope all of these memories remain with me forever!

Ash Wednesday, when I began this effort, I couldn’t think of a better way to observe Lent. I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life. Spending time is his homeland added a new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the photographs from our trip, I realized that I’d forgotten more than I remembered. While Mike searched for photo ops, I had engaged in quite a bit of internalizing. I couldn’t help taking to heart the things that happened on that hallowed ground so long ago. I couldn’t help stepping into Mary Magdalene’s and Peter’s and Jesus’ sandals. Little did I know at the time that soon we would all wear the sandals of the suffering.

It is Cleopas who poses the question in the scripture passage above. Jesus had disguised himself for this meeting, leaving Poor Cleopas to wonder who it was that knew nothing of Jesus’ death. As I consider their conversation, I feel certain that today no one would have to ask if you or I had heard of COVID-19. As was the case with Cleopas and his friend, the world as we once knew it has been turned upside-down.

The good news is that Cleopas and his friend aren’t the only ones to whom Jesus has shown himself. You and I have two thousand years of Jesus’ influence to rely on. Are we any more miserable than the suffering souls Jesus encountered along the way? Are we any less deserving of Jesus’ love? Jesus doesn’t think so. Like Cleopas and his friend, we aren’t alone on this road…

Loving God, thank you for staying with us through it all!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Easter Week… Monday

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

Our last hours in Israel flew by. We’d spent the day plodding through truly holy land and by early evening we sat in a restaurant for our farewell meal. We enjoyed the tempting aromas inside while unsuspecting Israelis tended to their daily routines as they had done throughout our tour. Each one was rightfully oblivious to the amazing journey my fellow travelers and I had just completed.

Jerusalem was a bustling metropolis in Jesus’ day as well, especially during Passover. Devout people flocked to the city 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 at all 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?” As we know, Peter answered that question in the days that followed.

Today, you and I must answer the same question. Like, Peter, though we can’t be certain of what tomorrow will bring, we can be sure of what we bring to tomorrow. I hope I can bring a bit of faith in my fellow humans, hope in our capacities to conquer this virus and to endure, confidence in all of our efforts, love for everyone I meet along the way -even though that “way” is confined to my house just now- and attitude enough to stick this out for as long as it takes!

Dear God, be with us all as we answer “What now?” as best we can.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved