Holy Week… Holy Saturday

“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

We visited The Church of the Holy Sepulcher which rests in the Old City of Jerusalem. At this point, I was secretly proud of my husband and me because we’d endured the walking, climbing and other rigors of this trek 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 on this lovely afternoon.

Though archaeologists aren’t certain that this church houses either Jesus’ tomb or the place Jesus was crucified, this didn’t matter to me. Simply being in the vicinity of these events was enough. In one way or another, I had crossed Jesus’ path as he dragged himself to the place of his crucifixion. I had also walked near the place where Joseph of Arimathea had given his tomb for Jesus’ burial. In the church, I peered into a stone-hewn tomb which very much resembles the place where Jesus was buried.

As I considered the events which truly made this place holy, it occurred to me that though Jesus’ body lay wrapped from Friday until Sunday morning, Jesus himself was busy celebrating with his Abba over their reunion and our good fortune. We would all soon realize that the end of this life isn’t the end after all!

There is more good news today. The end of life as we knew it before COVID-19 isn’t the end after all. Our capable and resilient human family continues to battle this virus until both a cure and a vaccine are in hand. Many continue to care for the sick while the rest of us stay safe by staying put to prevent the virus’s spread. Still others continue to use their ingenuity to help is ways of which many of us are unaware. No, this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of our future.

Loving God, only you can draw such amazing good from even the worst of our circumstances. Amen! Alleluia!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Close Enough…

Upon disembarking Jesus saw a vast crowd.
He pitied them for they were like sheep without a shepherd
and he began to teach them at great length.

Mark 6:34

In Israel, when we arrived at Tabgha, our guide shared that this is the place where many believe Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fish and loaves of bread. As we drove off to the next site, I nuzzled into my seat on the bus. It had been a long day and I wondered what was it like to be among the crowds who saw all that Jesus did? What must it have been like to get to know him more personally?

A community of Jewish Christians likely occupied the area from Jesus’ time for perhaps four centuries. Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim from 380 C.E., wrote her observations when she visited this place. She’d found rock formations which were considered memorials of the three events which occurred there: the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding with loaves and fishes and a post-resurrection appearance to the apostles. Though it is possible that all three events occurred as was believed, modern scholars suggest that this may not be the case.

Once again, I found that the location of Jesus’ activities meant far less to me than all that he did. Though Jesus may not have taught in this place, he certainly taught with his every word and deed wherever he walked. Though the loaves and fish may not have fed a full five thousand that day, Jesus certainly exhibited his compassion for the people in a memorable way. Perhaps this also wasn’t a place Jesus visited after he rose from the dead. His assertion that there is life after this life lives on regardless.

At the end of that day, I gave thanks for this opportunity to walk where Jesus walked, to breathe the air Jesus breathed and to see the sights Jesus saw. Whether as near as his closest friends or as distant as the crowds who watched from afar, simply being there mattered to me.

Being there for one another is just as important these days. Though we must engage in social distancing for all of our safety, we can get closer via a phone call, a text, a note or an email. Be creative and share the love!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus’ life among us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Alive Again!

I hope this reference to our visit to the Holy Land eases each of us away from our current worries for a little while…

When we sailed on the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help smiling. I knew this adventure would be a high point of this trip. It was more than unlikely that we had followed the precise route Jesus had taken with his fishermen disciples when they sailed this sea. Still, the water beneath me, the sky above me and the hills in the distance were all part of the view Jesus enjoyed every time he ventured out onto Peter’s or another friend’s boat. Archaeologists tell us that the Israeli sailors who hosted us likely resemble Jesus and his contemporaries. Though their contemporary clothing suggested otherwise, their love for that boat, the water beneath them and the priceless view all around them ushered me back to Jesus’ day.

On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we retell the story of Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus. Though Lazarus succumbed to serious illness and seemed lost to all who loved him, the scriptures tell us that Jesus changed everything for all concerned when he raised Lazarus from the dead. As I consider what Jesus did for Lazarus that day, I cannot miss the similarity between this event and what occurred with another of Jesus’ friends these two thousand years later. Though this would be my third voyage with Daniel Carmel, I knew I would never tire of sharing the story of how his newfound life with Jesus came about.

Daniel was born to a young unmarried Orthodox Jewish woman who gave him up for adoption. The secular Jewish family who made him their own had no faith to share with Daniel. However, they did have a lot of love and a happy home to share with their new son. Daniel and his family lived in the port city of Haifa. This proximity to water inspired Daniel’s love for the sea and his desire to become a boat captain one day. Daniel’s family also nurtured his love for music. They gifted him with a set of drums early on. Though Daniel enjoyed a nurturing upbringing, he endured a personal crisis while in his twenties. This death of sorts urged Daniel onto a quest deep within himself. Because his family hadn’t kept his adoption secret, Daniel continued his internal exploration by finding his birth family. Daniel found not only his mother, but also four siblings. With the hope of building relationships with them, Daniel relocated nearby. He stayed in a Kibbutz and found a job on a tour boat.

When I first heard this, I recalled our tour guide’s experience growing up in a Kibbutz. There was no talk of God there. I assumed Daniel’s newfound family were Orthodox Jews as his birth mother had been, so there would be no talk of Jesus with them. Offering tours of “holy” places is big business and certainly not a religious experience for local Jewish and Palestinian businessmen. I puzzled over what it was that prompted Daniel to take that extreme step toward Jesus. Amazingly enough, Daniel discovered Jesus’ tangible presence on the Sea of Galilee just as I had. For five years, he listened to his passengers talk about their belief in Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) as they sailed. All the while, Daniel absorbed the prayers, the music and the scripture passages they shared. Every day, Daniel pondered all that he saw and heard. In the end, Daniel couldn’t help being moved. Something within Daniel came to life the day he realized that he also believed in Yeshua. Indeed, Yeshua had become Daniel’s most precious and life-giving treasure.

Daniel shares this treasure through his testimony and his music during boat tours and concerts in churches. Daniel sings the hymns which first inspired him. He has translated them into Hebrew for other Messianic Jewish believers to enjoy. Jesus’ passion for sharing God’s love is very much alive in Daniel. He expresses that passion in all he says and does in spite of being ostracized by many of his fellow Jews, secular and religious, who resent his belief in Jesus. As for me, Daniel’s music eases me into Jesus’ company every time I hear it.

It seems that Jesus has done for Daniel what he did for Lazarus so long ago. John’s gospel (John 11:1-45) tells us that, when Lazarus died, Jesus went to Lazarus’ sisters to comfort them. Martha and Mary responded by insisting that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been with him. How many times I’ve looked upward and declared the same, “If you were here, things would be different!” Daniel Carmel insists that Jesus is with us, that his miracle was repeated in him and that it is repeated in you and me every time we survive one of the major and minor tragedies of this life. The best part of all of this is that we can imitate Jesus’ miracle in our own efforts to renew the lives of those we’ve been given to love. Today, this seems to be more important than ever!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Why Am I Grateful?

Give thanks to God;
bless God’s name for God is good;
God’s kindness endures forever…

From Psalm 100:4-5

Why am I grateful?

I’m alive, happily alive!
I love my people and my people love me, sometimes in spite of me!
I’m a daughter, sibling, aunt, cousin, sister-in-law, grandma and friend.
Most importantly, I’m a wife and a mom. The best job I’ve ever had is being a mom.

Why am I grateful?

God loves me.
God entrusts me with a special mission in this life.
Jesus provides a lifetime of very good example which guides me on an ongoing basis.
Jesus assures me that God expects only what I’m able to do, nothing more.
Jesus makes time for anyone who seeks him out.
Jesus assures us all that something better awaits us.

Why am I grateful?

On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share God’s love,
for those God has given me to love,
for the opportunity to write,
and for those who take the time to read my humble words.
Most of all, I’m grateful for God who makes it all worthwhile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Generous God, thank you for everything!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Still Celebrating Easter?

“My God, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me…”

From John 17:24

Last Wednesday was the first warm and sunny day we’d had in a while. Early on, my husband headed to the garage to begin his planting. Mike worked on his pots and planters while I trimmed a few boxwood bushes which had done serious battle with the frost. I swept the patio and arranged the furniture there while Mike ran to the garden shop for a few more plants. After lunch, my favorite gardener returned to his flowers and I reluctantly headed upstairs to begin this writing.

Since Memorial Day was only five days away, I had a difficult time returning my thoughts to Easter. After all, we’d sung our alleluias and enjoyed that wonderful lamb dinner almost five weeks earlier. Even those pesky remnants of Easter grass (Which continue to linger!) didn’t help much. It was the sunshine pouring through the study window which finally drew my thoughts to Easter’s joy. “How can I have lost sight of that?” I asked myself aloud…

At church, we actually celebrate Easter for eight weeks. On paper, the Easter Season closes on Pentecost Sunday. Still, the warm rays which caused the window and study floor to glow said otherwise. Regardless of the calendar’s date, the sun persisted in doing its job. Even through clouds and the worst of storms, the sun’s warmth makes its way to us. The sun is always there. It occurred to me that the same is true regarding Easter Joy. It’s always there, too.

Those who walked with Jesus celebrated Easter for what remained of their earthly lives. Their faith in the things to come inspired them to share what they knew with everyone they met along the way. The sun lingering overhead reminded me that you and I are invited to do the same.

Generous God, thank you for the gentle nudges which remind us to celebrate Easter Joy always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Every Day A Good Day!

Cast your care upon the Lord
and he will support you.

Psalm 55:23

Early that morning, I’d engaged in my daily routine which begins with the few exercises which keep my aging frame more limber than it might otherwise be. Though I’m usually invigorated by this regimen, I found myself a bit melancholy. I hadn’t yet recouped the energy I’d expended as I prepared for Easter. Unfortunately, this didn’t deter the new and unwanted to-do list which was forming on my desk. Before I could voice a complaint to myself, a familiar photograph caught my eye.

I exercise in the same spot most days, but my thoughts usually prevent me from attending to the scenery. That morning, however, my sister Cecele demanded my attention. This particular picture was taken in the midst of the chemotherapy regimen which we hoped would destroy the cancer in her lungs. Only a bit of fuzz served as Cecele’s hair when she posed, but it’s difficult to notice. Every time I see that photograph, I’m drawn to my sister’s dancing eyes and her broad smile. That morning, those eyes twinkled and I’m certain that her smile grew even larger.

“Yes, Cecele, I get the point!” I told my sister. “I won’t complain and I will be grateful for this new day.” Cecele had been grateful for every day she was given after that final diagnosis took her by surprise. And, yes, after breakfast, I started working on that to-do list with my own grateful smile!

Patient God, thank you for the numerous reminders that this life is truly a gift!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved