In mid-February, my husband Mike and I spent seven days in the Holy Land. After we decided to join our friend Nancy Gabriele’s tour, I consistently referenced this trek as “our trip to Israel”. Though our itinerary was well-planned and inclusive, I had no idea of what to expect. After all, two thousand years have passed since Jesus’ birth. When I researched each of the sites we would visit, I wondered if any remnants of Jesus’ presence remained at any of them.
Two days before we left, our suitcases were packed. Our son and a neighborhood friend had agreed to manage the mail, trash pick-up and any snow which might assault our driveway while we were away. There was nothing left for us to do except to review our itinerary, recheck our flight status and take a deep breath. Though Mike is always a willing traveler, I found that I was surprisingly calm and actually anxious to be on our way as well. I normally spend pre-flight days fretting over the tiny airplane seat which would hold me captive for the duration. Rather, I was filled with expectation regarding who and what I would discover in Israel. I couldn’t help smiling with the same joy with which I anticipate family gatherings here at home. Oddly, I felt assured that I was about to embark upon a homecoming unlike any I’d experienced before.
Finally, departure day arrived and we headed to O’Hare Airport. Before I knew it, we’d made our way through security, checked in for our flight and settled into our seats on the plane. I immediately pulled out our itinerary. Caesarea, Nazareth, Cana, The Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum and Jerusalem were among the places which seemed oddly familiar to me. The Sea of Galilee, Magdala and Gethsemane brought tears to my eyes as though I’d experienced my own hardships in each of these places. In the midst of my reflection, I prayed that the flight would pass quickly, not out of fear or discomfort, but because I was anxious to breathe in the air and walk the earth which had once sustained my long-ago family. With that, I slept on and off for the duration. When we arrived in Tel Aviv, a man who’d made the flight with us stopped in the midst of our parade to the baggage claim area. Seemingly oblivious to the hurried crowd around him, he knelt and kissed the ground. I smiled as I asked myself why I felt like doing the same. When we paraded out of the terminal, I knew I’d find my long-ago family on the other side.
On this Second Sunday of Lent, we listen once again to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had come to respect and to love Jesus very much. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something more about himself which simple words could not express. Jesus’ lessons up to this point had certainly flown in the face of the teachings his friends and all of the people had encountered in the temple. Jesus insisted that what matters most to God is God’s people. Whenever necessary, Jesus had set aside the stern rules which caused God’s loved ones needless hardship. “The Law was made for man,” Jesus insisted, and not the other way around. If that wasn’t revolutionary enough, the trip up that mountainside provided Peter, James and John a glimpse of the treasure which lay at the end of Jesus’ ministry and at the end of his life. When Jesus took on his “after life” appearance, he offered his closest friends a glimpse of the glory which awaits us all. Surely, Peter James and John were never the same after that day. How could they be? Terrible and frightening times followed which eventually stole everything of importance to them. Still, they persisted because that image of Jesus in all of his glory remained etched into their memories and onto their hearts. Imagine the hope in their eyes when Peter, James and John consoled the others with this promise of what would come for them all!
In Israel, I was gifted with a transfiguration of sorts. I peered into the eyes of an Israeli who likely resembled Jesus’ ancestors. I was inches from a tiny oil lamp dated to Jesus’ time. I sailed the Sea of Galilee with a Messianic Jew who found Jesus in the pilgrims he’d met along the way. I walked the path to Gethsemane which was painfully more familiar than I’d hoped. All of this I did in the quiet company of my long-ago family: Jesus and his mother, Mary Magdalene and the others who remain etched into my memory and onto my heart.
Every day, you and I are invited to experience transfiguration in ourselves and in those we’ve been given to love and to care for along the way.
©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved