THE FOG

The field stands in perfect stillness. On this night, a thick, low-lying fog rolls across the wild flowers and grasses engulfing them until they disappear. The occasional tree pops up out of the grey and murky scene, only its limbs and leaves emerging as visible shadows in the dark. From within, one can hear a loud chorus of frogs croaking as if in unison. Maybe they are calling out for one another in the blindness of this deep mist, or maybe they are simply singing in hopes that the world may hear. Regardless, their voices seemingly rise out of a great void on this particular evening. Out of grey ‘nothingness’ comes the shadows and songs of the creation.
As I take a moment to observe this phenomenon, I realize that I cannot see any individuals for the whole. I am only able to see fog and shadows obstructing brightness and beauty. I am only able to hear the loud sounds of the collective drowning out each individual. Then I look up into the sky. There is the Big Dipper brightly twinkling in the vast universe. I can see each individual star and the collective cluster all at once! I am struck by the sudden realization that this is God’s vantage point! God can see the fog as one in the way that I do, but can also see every tiny individual drop of moisture that forms this cloud. God can hear the song of the frogs, and can also listen to each one as if they are performing a solo. These simple thoughts lift my heart, for I am reminded once again that God can hear us corporately as One Human Family, while also simultaneously hearing me alone in any one particular moment. I am not so small as to be lost in the vast expanse of the human race. The fog and greyness in this world cannot engulf and hide me from view. I am known by the One who can know all! What a remarkable thought on this dark and still night! Thanks be to God! Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

THE CALM AFTER THE STORM

Through the shadows of the trees, several flashes of distant lightning illuminate the night sky. In these few moments, ominous clouds are revealed to the naked eye before once again blending into the darkness. Shortly, claps of thunder roll across the landscape like waves, startling any creatures who stand as witness to the chaos approaching this corner of God’s creation. Suddenly and without warning, the winds erupt and engulf all in their path, as the trees begin to dance wildly in response to these events. The nervous anticipation is now palpable in the air, as the chorus of the evening’s creatures goes silent, leaving the stage solely for this storm. Eventually, the first large drop falls from the sky, and then another. Soon, the rain comes down in waves and the lightning begins to put on a show for the ages. The thunder grows in intensity, now rhythmically pounding like a large drum. The mighty winds howl along with a strength that can rearrange the landscape. This is Mother Nature’s raw power on display.

An hour or so later, all is calm again. Slowly, one by one, stars begin to peek out from behind clouds. The moon seemingly awakens from slumber to reflect light into the scene, providing a first look at the storm’s aftermath. A frog calls out cautiously, and then more boldly, as others quickly join into the chorus. Tree limbs slowly and steadily begin to straighten and stand upright, stretching to regain their posture. A sense of normal gently returns. The night now has a fresh new smell, beautiful enough to heal a wearied soul. With each passing moment, chaos is more and more replaced with peace and calm. Come morning, the sun will rise triumphantly once again, shining upon a flower opening its pedals for the very first time. The bright flower will inherently trust that it can stand open with a burst of glory, even amidst such a sometimes harsh world, because God has molded it to do so. This tiny life will provide for bees and butterflies alike. She will plant a seed of joy in the hearts of those who wander by on this day and spy her colors. She will remind us that there is still some measure of beauty somewhere nearby, even in the wake of our every storm. Such is the calm AFTER the storm. Such is the Grace of God in our world. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

SIMPLE AND BEAUTIFUL LIFE

The tree’s limbs wave in the stiff spring wind. These are winds of change. They carry with them seeds and pollen, dropping them arbitrarily along the way as if to act like a gardener planting with eager anticipation. The tree itself stands proud against this breeze, showing off to the world shiny new leaves and glorious budding flowers. She always enjoys this time of year, awaking from a deep slumber to greet old friends and new life alike. She will provide fruit for birds, squirrels and chipmunks. She will act as a shelter for nests and give shade on hot summer days to come. She will stretch ever farther into the spaces around her, gently brushing and touching neighboring trees. She will even seem to be a playground for frolicking creatures jumping and climbing all over her. For this old lady, daily life is joyful. Her limbs will bask in the sun this morning, and dance in the storm this afternoon. She leads a simple and beautiful existence.

I find myself greeting her every morning, reaching up to offer a glancing touch myself. We share a kind of kinship. My beloved puppy and I used to sit here for hours, admiring her wonderful canopy of leaves, fruits and flowers. These days, I sit here alone and simply listen to songbirds, who sing like a choir of heavenly angels. This moment is prayerful, even if I don’t speak a word. I see the true grace of this old tree and I remember the pure love of an old soul who followed me everywhere. I listen to small voices singing boldly and watch tiny creatures bolt from hole to hiding place. My heart is warmed and calmed. I feel peace. In this place, storms provide an opportunity to dance, and are events that encourage growth. I would do well to sit here more often, watching and listening, as a gentle wind blows by from heaven’s storehouses, carrying and distributing seeds of life on a whim….

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Elgin, IL)

ROAD TO EMMAUS

The sun beats down on this dusty road, creating a very warm afternoon. Two travelers walk in silence, ignoring the songs of the birds and the trees wafting in the gentle breeze. In their hearts, nothing matters now but their suffering. Their Lord has been crucified. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem just a week ago is now a distant and bittersweet memory. This recessional walk out of Jerusalem is solemn and quiet, but not peaceful. Suddenly another soul joins them, talkative and even somewhat joyful. The two travelers reluctantly engage in conversation as their sojourn marches forward. They wonder at their guest’s mood, seemingly oblivious to the chaos and violence of the past few days. Who is this odd man? Meanwhile, time drifts by agonizingly slow. Eventually, the sun begins to set, lighting up the horizon with dazzling color, as if celebratory in nature against the gloom of these recent days. Everything exists in contrast here. There is an invite, more out of obligation than anything else, to sit and eat. And then, the breaking of the bread…

In this moment, eyes are opened and the revelation of new life dawns on these men. It is their resurrected Lord! They recognize him in the breaking of the bread! In mere moments, the two are again alone. Above the stars shine brightly, twinkling as if dancing cheerfully, as their light breaks through amidst such vast darkness. The creatures of the night are anything but clamoring all around. They know…and these two men now know! They run back to Jerusalem through the night, just as shepherds a few decades earlier had run through the night to Bethlehem. The region is buzzing as rumors have begun to spread. The earth, which just two days ago had quaked in anger, is once again calmed by the footsteps and voice of the One it always recognizes. The large moon hovers above, as the entire universe reflects a grace beyond comprehension or words. It all makes sense now. God’s mission is life. It was never about the cross or the tomb, but rather the bread and how it connects us to him and each other. This is why the cross was taken down and the tomb was found to be empty. But the bread…the bread in its breaking turns our eyes away from that which is death, and instead focuses our gaze upon that which is life! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Whenever we eat of this bread and drink of this cup…Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

HE IS RISEN

Slowly, the sky lightens, as darkness finally begins the process of giving way to light. In the distance, a couple birds sing cheerfully, their voices breaking the otherwise eerie silence. The sun is rising, taking its first glance over the horizon. A new day is dawning. In this garden, which rests so close to that horrific hill upon which crosses stood just hours ago, a tomb now stands wide open. Its rock has been rolled away. Peace and hope fill the air, as a gentle breeze calmly warms the scene. The creation awaits with anticipation, as the women approach yet unaware of the glory they are about to witness. They will run to tell the story, as shepherds had so many years before.

Once again, angels stand ready to herald a new day for all the earth. This tomb, intended to separate one’s body from the living world, a chasm where only death can exist, is now about to become a symbol of life eternal. A rock, so very lifeless by itself, is about to be known for all time as that which ushered life into the garden that morning. This ground, which hours earlier captured and held tears of excruciating pain, will now capture tears of unbridled joy. This place, which a day before had hosted such suffering, is now to be declared hallowed and holy for all the ages. New life is born from the womb of a grave! The Lord, for a second time, emerges to take a deep first earthly breath! The world around this place is seemingly bursting at its seams! Cries will soon scream out into the universe, “HE IS RISEN!” He is risen, indeed…

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

VIGIL – HOLY SATURDAY

All is quiet now. The wind blows through the stillness of shock and grief. In the midst of this garden is a cave, now used as a tomb, which is sealed by a large stone. The whole of creation is numb. The sun shines, even on this day, for that is its purpose. Clouds pass overhead, as if in procession, to take a quick glance at the scene. Trees stand in solemn reverence nearby. The universe is shaken, knowing not what to do in these hours following its Lord’s final breath. There is an uneasy silence and calm amid the storm that is these three holy days.
Women visit and keep vigil. It is their tears that now stain the earth. They stare in solitude at a rock in simple horror. No words are spoken. Broken hearts beat almost against their will. These women are brave to be here. Perhaps they pray. Perhaps they are too stunned to do or think anything. All that matters in these moments is their presence. They have come, for what purpose they need not know. As night falls, and the women leave, the stars will take their place in the night sky, gently twinkling through the deep thickness of the dark. The moon will reflect a great ray of light upon the garden. The outer shell of the tomb will be illumined. It is as if the inhabitants of the nighttime sky reach out to lay a hand of blessing on this grave. And we, too, will keep vigil and solemnly pray through the night. Shine little stars, shine. You are the keepers of God’s Light this chilled and weary night…at least until the dawn when the voice of the first birds shall break out in song, heralding a new day to come.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

A PRIMAL SCREAM – GOOD FRIDAY

Hanging from a cross, you struggled through your final breaths. This day was filled with horror and hell. You had been beaten with a whip made from vines and branches. Your forehead bled from a crown made of thorns. You had been pelted by stones as you dragged the weight of the cross, and all humanity’s failings, through the streets. Your hands and legs had been nailed to a rudimentary cross made of trees. Now, finally, mercifully, on a hillside, you were taking a couple final earthly breaths. And then, it was finished…
But there was an anger and a grief that could not be held back. For throughout the entire evil ordeal, the creation itself had been used to abuse you, O Lord. The creation, made of your Word and molded by your hands, which responded to your voice with calm when you spoke to the winds and the seas, had been manipulated by humanity to crush you. Human hands had taken hold of vines, thorns, rocks and trees in order to punish you for that of which humanity was guilty. And now, the cries of the universe would not be silenced! The skies went dark, the thunder rolled across the hillsides, the earth quaked. Once, and for all time, the creation rebuked humankind and witnessed you as the one you claimed all along to be. Darkness hovered as the light of the world was extinguished…temporarily. The earth moved. The skies, which so long ago had echoed songs of gentle praise at your birth, now rumbled as if to scream out with a primal yell, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!” And so many of the people gathered stood in stunned silence. Tonight, the earth will gently and lovingly hold the body of its Lord. Tonight, a stone will guard your tomb to keep humanity away from you. Tonight, we will grieve too, as the universe and the ages stand in judgment. All the while, the stars of the heavens flicker far above…tiny lights straining through such despair to insert themselves into our darkness.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS – MAUNDY THURSDAY

I can see it so vividly, and hauntingly, in my mind’s eye. You, my Lord, praying in despair as the disciples slept nearby. This beautiful garden that so often brought peace to those who entered, was filled only with darkness, fear, and determination on this night. The pain must have been excruciating. The weight of the world’s brokenness must have been almost unbearable. In silence and solitude, your prayers screamed out into the universe and across the ages. And as you knelt here, your sweat and tears fell like drops of blood staining the innocence of the creation.
Tonight, the most divine of all hearts poured out the purest of all loves. Tonight, grace proved its strength in a world that would much rather judge. Tonight, standing alone, you would bear your soul, and in doing so indelibly leave your image scarred into these rocks and this earth. This garden was made holy not by your presence alone, but by the blood, sweat and tears you shed here. The earth, in all its simple splendor, gently absorbed the suffering of your gut-wrenching pain, even as your disciples failed and your enemies approached. It was the creation itself, which came from the very Word that is your essence, which cradled you as a mother would a distraught child. I truthfully cannot fathom the depth of energy or emotion that filled the air on the Mount of Olives in those moments. I cannot comprehend the uneasiness of your pounding heart. In my mind, I can only watch in horror as Judas kisses you. What went unsaid as you both locked eyes? This place…these tears…the echoes of a quiet garden that hosted all that is holy and all that is evil on one fateful night. And the stars gently shone above as if to offer their reassurance…
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

THE CEMETERY

For some reason unknown to me, my heart longs today to visit these hallowed grounds again, for they are holy and quiet. On many a spring day, I have found myself standing calmly over this space, staring at a memorial which bears the names Arthur and Edna. Off to one side stands a line of evergreens, stubbornly providing a barrier to the outside world. On another side stands a couple deciduous trees, guarding the passage of time in a place where time is of no essence. The songs of birds carried by the winds are all that breaks the stillness here, forming a glorious choir of angels for anyone who may be listening, or maybe for God alone. On two different occasions, approximately fifty years ago now, a pastor has stood on this very spot and uttered the words, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” So often since, this young pastor has stood in those same footsteps, and silently stared at the graves of grandparents he really never knew. As I gaze around, I see jagged headstones and tall monuments, each bearing names – and it is as if I am standing in my own family tree. There is a strange and contemplative peace that cannot be described as one rests in the midst of what once was.
Perhaps my longing takes root in a truth that is firmly planted within my faith – the knowledge that love never dies. It is a promise of the God who assures eternal life and relationship. I may not have known Edna on this earth, and I may have only known Arthur for three short years, but their love nonetheless lives within me. It is the greatest of all gifts, and a gift that cannot ever be taken away. And so, on afternoons when I stand in solitude in this old cemetery, I am truly immersed in a familiar, if though unknown, love. It is God’s love, emanating from God’s heart, which, having been planted in the soul of a child over a century ago, was tended to by the Great Gardener through a lifetime and then handed down upon a final breath. Thus, these hallowed grounds stand as a reminder to the world that generation after generation of love is gathered in and around us, if only we reach out with open arms to embrace it. Today, my heart longs… Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

AWAKENINGS

Just a few feet away, a robin sits calmly and watches me. I am raking leaves, and she is patiently waiting. As I finish, she will peruse the dirt for worms or other treats that have been hidden under this thick layer of leaves. She has no fear of me, and I even find myself cheerfully speaking with her. Far above us, a flock of Sandhill Cranes soar in formation as they call out to one another in their soothing and trumpeting cry. On a rock off to our side, a ground squirrel observantly studies the scene to see if anything has changed during his months-long hibernation. Nearby, tiny little flowers poke their heads up out of the ground, peeking to see if it is finally safe to awake from their winter slumber. Meanwhile, buds start to show themselves on a branch or two of the bush around which I work as life once again forms out of nothingness. It is as if the creation has played some sort of magic trick, in which things seemingly appear literally out of nowhere.

For the past few months, the creation itself has stood still, almost lifeless. Trees have been bare, and very few creatures have ventured out into the cold and snow. Some have chosen to hibernate, while others even left for warmer climates. In some ways, the world has looked pure, calm and beautiful. Yet, in others, it could have been compared to a tomb holding that which lacks life. But on this day, new life has come bursting out into the world! The creation resurrects, to something familiar and yet not quite the same as ever before. A transfiguration shines before our very eyes. And as the sun gently caresses my face, I imagine for just a moment that God is smiling proudly at all the first breaths, and all the awakened old, that is once again being unveiled for all the universe to see. Thank you, O Lord, for awakening my old soul this day as well. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)