Sisters and brothers in Christ, Lenten grace to you and peace this day. AMEN.
One of my many favorite moments in all of Scripture is when Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus in the Gospel of John. Today, while the text doesn’t specifically say that Jesus is weeping, it’s clear that he’s grieving and longing. Only this time it’s not just for a single family — Lazarus, and his brothers and sisters — but for a whole city, that is lost in sin and violence, brokenness and pain!
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem — the city that kills it’s prophets and throws rocks at those who are sent to it! How I long to gather you, like a mother hen gathers her chicks.”
There’s so much happening here, because of the context of these words from Jesus: Unlike earlier in the story of Jesus, he’s not sitting on a peaceful hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, when he offers this loving image; he’s just been approached by Pharisees (who, btw, are not all bad in the Gospel of Luke — many are his friends and students). And these particular Pharisees are warning him of impending danger: “Get out of here, Herod wants to catch you!”...at which point Jesus sets up this dichotomy: Herod the Fox vs. Jesus the Mother Hen.
Who would you rather have protect you, gather you to safety?
Our Wednesday Lenten Evening Worship this year takes a slow and intentional look at the ancient old hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”, where the cross is imaged as a home, our safe, dwelling place. And so we’re invited to think of being protected by the shadow of the cross, kind of like today, the cover of a mother chicken’s wing…
Not quite the most protective images in the world’s eyes, are they? In the world’s eye, honestly, I think I’d rather be on the fox’s side — who is stealthy and wise, sharp and fast...even better looking.
But our Mother Hen gathers us today, and longs (and weeps) to gather all under the shelter of her wing. (That’s church, btw, here in the place, here in this barn...)
And notice, the mother hen doesn’t just want to gather only the well-behaved little chicks. She wants to gather all of them. Why? Because they are all hers. Those who are doing a great job, in their lives, in their striving for peace and justice, in their work places, in their families...and also, the mother hen longs to gather those who have fallen short, those who have gotten lost, seduced by the world, caught up in the things that don’t last, those who have even turned and ridiculed and rejected their mother hen...Why, does God long to gather us all under her loving wing, because we are ALL hers! Beautiful image!
I am so grateful to be on this Lenten journey with you here at Shepherd of the Valley. I know that many of you are living in Lent, in one way or another — maybe through a discipline, or through mid-week worship and fellowship, or by wearing purple, or giving extra, or by getting back in the garden…
Lots of you are journeying this beautiful Lenten season, taking an honest — sometimes hard — look at your lives, and taking the humbling steps back to God, back to the earth, back to the community. This is a good season, a rich season, and it’s good to journey together…
Today, still in the midst of our Lenten wilderness journey, let us take comfort in the shelter of the grace and love of Christ, who stretches out, like a mother hen stretches out her wings, and gathers us in, all of us...who brings us together, especially those of us who have strayed the farthest, fallen the hardest. It’s us sinners that God weeps for and then celebrates most!
Gathered together by God — even and especially in the midst of the world’s violence and pain, even and especially in the midst of Herod’s hunt, even in the midst of our own natural fears and anxieties about our safety — gathered by God, we take shelter in the shadow of the cross, which though it may not offer protection in the world’s eyes (that kind of protection might look more like fox protection, sharp teeth, high towers, armored walls and security systems)...but we Christ’s brood takes shelter in the shadow of the cross, for only there, we faithful trust, is true and lasting peace, forgiveness of sin, and new life, our home and dwelling place.
As our Gospel text says, Christ is casting out demons and healing today tomorrow and the next day. Friends in Christ, that’s us, Christ is working on us, working on you this Lenten season, thanks be to God.
Finally, at the end of this text Jesus says, “You will not see me again until the time of comes when you will say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” I almost read that like Jesus is saying, “Well, see you on the flip side.”
But friends in Christ, sisters and brothers living with me in the shadow of the cross, as our presiding bishop Mark Hanson likes to point out: “We live on this side of the resurrection. AMEN?” We sing ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’ every Sunday! We’ll sing it today, and then we see again and eat again Jesus in our midst.
Christ is always with us...on this side of the resurrection! he no longer disappears, saying “See you on the flipside.” We live in the flipside, even in the season of Lent. And so Christ is here now. There’s no “See ya later”.
And so we rest now in the shade of grace, in the cover of eternal forgiveness. And soon, we will go back out in to a new week, back out into the world, to be the people—to shape and reshape our lives to be the people—that Christ has called us to be. Lenten grace be with you and peace, even when times are hard and the journey is rocky, Lenten grace and peace, this day and always. AMEN.