Journey Story

Jesus Shows Up

by Rev . Katherine Katsanis-Semel

“…then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” –Luke 24:31

Jesus will find us anywhere. As soon as we give him permission, his quest for our hearts is endless.

I remember when I first came out as queer—first to myself, next to my first girlfriend and friends, and lastly to family.

I never thought that Jesus could show up in the midst of that process, which was largely a gut-wrenching one.

I had, audacious as I was, attempted to limit Jesus’ powerful compassion through my constricting belief system. Even so, he sure did. He showed up.

And each time that he showed up, my faith expanded and my negative beliefs dissolved into nothingness. Sometimes, he showed up via loved ones being gentler than I thought that they would be. Sometimes, he showed up via emotional strength when I needed it to endure hours of tough conversation. Sometimes, he showed up as courage bubbling up when I searched for an LGBTQ+ affirming place of worship.

Sometimes, he showed up via the nudge to love myself when I felt like hurting myself. Sometimes, he showed up via signs and wonders, though (generally speaking), he showed up so softly that only I would know that he was there. But there he was.

Recently, I felt guided to share a testimonial of how Jesus shows up in mysterious ways. To this day, he breaks free of the tomb. He shows up for us.

He breaks free and appears to us just when we think that we’ll never break out of our tombs—no matter what our “tomb” might be.

And my lived sense, in these particularly disturbing times (for our LGBTQ+ siblings across the globe), is that our community really needs to hear this truth now; or at the very least, I need to hear this truth now.

I need to be consistently reminded of it, as we continue to move through a season of political backlash, which some erroneously assume to be the proper answer to progress. We must continue to minister to one another; we must remind each other that Jesus can and does show up. He shows up in the midst of places and spaces and moments, in which we had all but ruled out his presence.

One situation comes to mind from several years ago. My partner and I were in the midst of crowded Manhattan; we were walking home from Easter services—yes, it was on Easter evening—when we were suddenly surrounded by violence. It was the type of uncontrolled violence that I had only heard about and had not yet witnessed. People on the streets around us were frantically running into hotels, parking garages, and restaurants to hide. But many establishments were closed, seeing as how it was a major holiday/holy day. A chill went up my spine and through my face.

I knew that prayer, not so much shelter, was the true solution.

I said aloud, “Jesus, we need you here with us now. Please protect us.” Within a minute or two, I heard a female voice behind me say, “Kat, it’s J.C.!” Huh? Is God a woman, after all? I pondered this thought, as my stunned eyes took in four or five victims lying on the ground nearby us, as police sirens blared around us.

Well, in this case, I realized that the voice belonged to a former student of mine. Yes, her name was “J.C.” I don’t recall what the initials stand for, maybe Jessie Christina, yet I do recall thinking that she was an answered prayer. And yes, she was Jesus, in a sense, showing up for us.

“I know this neighborhood well,” she announced, after another parking garage appeared, and we ducked in just in time for a stampede of people flying by us; she then led us to another hiding spot. Lastly, she led us to the nearest train. That experience occurred prior to the rise of smartphones and apps….and let me tell you—she was a heaven sent, google maps app, if there ever was one.

We were blessed by Jesus showing up for us and guiding us to safety.

We read in the New York Times the next day of people shot and dozens arrested. We recognized that we were not only blessed, but were literally saved by grace.

Another, more recent Easter appearance comes to mind. A friend recently experienced the tragic loss of a loved one, just before Holy Week. Many in our circle of friends attended the memorial service to offer support. By the end of the “life celebration” for her loved one, who died in his twenties, I was pretty gutted. As I drove home in a state of grief, I realized—almost in slow motion—how badly I needed gas. So, I decided to pull into the nearest gas station to fill up my tank.

After I paid for gas, I realized how badly I needed to utilize the restroom. I don’t normally utilize restrooms at gas stations, as they aren’t exactly known for their cleanliness, yet I felt like I had no other option. So, I asked the employee at the front counter if I could utilize any restroom that they might have available for customers. (I didn’t want to assume that they had such a restroom, as this was a small, “Mom and Pop” kind of place.)

He kindly pointed to one for employees in the back, far behind the front counter area.

As I wandered into their private storage space, which led to a hallway, which then led to the restroom, I was brought to tears. On the wall on which I faced were several images of Jesus; one of them was an image that holds personal significance for me. It’s called the “Divine Mercy” image. You may be familiar with this image; it is usually paired with the statement, “Jesus, I Trust in You.” I was blown away.

Here you are, I thought, showing up….in the back of a gas station full of cigarettes and hard liquor; call me conservative, Jesus, but I never would have expected your face back here. Yet, there he was. He knew how much I needed to come face to face with him. He knew how my heart broke for my friend. And it seemed to me that he was asking that I trust him. He asked that I trust him in all things, even in the worst of things.

Jesus will find us anywhere. As soon as we give him our consent, he spends the rest of eternity pursuing our hearts.

He relentlessly shows up. He fervently cares.

So, no matter what equality challenges we encounter this year—whether internally or externally or both—let us have faith that The Good Shepherd still surprises his loyal flock. He surprises us, simply by showing up.