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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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

No Greater Love…

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved,
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.”
Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.”

John 19:26-27

When I traveled to Israel, I saw examples of the whips used for scourging. Most men couldn’t tolerate the pain of even ten strikes with such a whip. Jesus endured thirty. I saw vines which resembled the thorny crown which was pressed into Jesus’ scalp. The purple cloak draped over Jesus’ torn flesh added to his misery. When onlookers refused their mercy, Pilate handed over Jesus to be crucified. As I walked the path to Calvary, I wondered how anyone made it there to die. I’ve mentioned those nails before, the ones that soldier pounded through Jesus’ wrists. How did he bear that pain?

In spite of all of this, as he hanged on that cross just minutes from death, Jesus opened his heart to those who kept vigil. He opened his heart to us as well. Jesus seemed to think that we all needed to be cared for far more than he did. So it was that Jesus called his mother and his friend to treat one another as family from that day forward. Jesus calls you and me to do the same.

I have no doubt that Jesus would have endured all of this for any one of us. As he hanged dying, Jesus spent himself to find every lost sheep; Jesus extended mercy to all of God’s prodigal children; Jesus offered the ultimate price for the rare pearl. Though the jealousy and fear of some had driven them to see to Jesus’ death, the faith and good will of many others urged him on. When Jesus endured crucifixion, he began to write the rest of the story which he’d tell on Easter morning.

Loving God, there is no greater gift than the love you revealed through Jesus. Thank you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Advantage

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

Still In Mourning

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
After he said this, he breathed his last.

Luke 23:46

The Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on The Cross

It was Lent four years ago when I attended a play about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I’m reminded of the date by the playbill which I kept as a memento of this inspiring encounter. The entire drama was portrayed by a single actress who offered Mary’s perspective of the events of her life with Jesus. The program I read as I waited for the curtain to rise assured me that this work was the product of one man’s imagination and nothing more. Still, as the story unfolded before me, I couldn’t help feeling that I was in the company of Jesus’ mother. I didn’t realize how closely I identified with this woman until she described the circumstances of her son’s death. With no intention of doing so, I suddenly imagined my older son hanging on a cross before me…

That image tore so deeply into my heart that I’ve never shared it until this writing. I don’t know how Jesus’ mother survived those hours with him because I could not survive watching either of my sons die under those circumstances and, if I’m truthful, under any circumstances.

This is the reason I will observe Good Friday. Jesus died and I need to mourn this loss just as Mary did.

Loving God, I know that the cross wasn’t the end for Jesus. Still, I mourn him.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved