Weeping and Wings


Last week, like every month, I got my hair cut. But this was not your regular outing to the salon (which I should say will remain nameless to protect the identity of the people in this story.) For one, I was the only customer, even though it was 11 o’clock in the morning and there were three stylists sitting around talking. So, delighted to have some unruly hair to cut one of the stylists leapt to his feet as I entered and ushered me to his chair. And as I sat down, he said to one of the other stylists what must have been the last sentence in a conversation that I’d missed. He simply said, “Well, I hope all your dreams come true.” Ah. That’s nice. But the other stylist’s response startled me. “Not last night’s dreams, I hope”, she snapped. The third stylist then asked her what she had dreamed of the previous night, and she said, “I can’t tell you, there’s a customer present.”

Now, I’m listening. My curiosity was out of control. So I called out across the salon, “Go on, tell us. What did you dream about? And its OK, I’m a priest and no one will hear about this – except a church of people at the start of Sunday’s sermon.” And she said, “OK”. So I kind of got all priestly, assumed the pose of the wise elder, and imagined myself as Joseph from the Old Testament – you know the interpreter of dreams, but without the technicolor dreamcoat. And she said, “I dreamed about a massacre.” And I said, ”oh.” And she said, “A massacre in my house.” And I said “Ooooh.” And I asked, “What did you eat before you went to bed?” which I realize is not what Joseph in the Old Testament would have said, but it was all I could think of. She replied that she’d eaten nothing weird. So I asked her if she’d been watching the news before she went to bed, which still wasn’t really what Joseph would have asked, but it was better than my first question about her bedtime snack. Things then led seamlessly into a four-way conversation about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the demonic abuse of power, the depravity of the human heart, and the need for God’s protection from evil. They then asked me if I could baptize them there and then in the salon. No they didn’t, I’m making that bit up.

God, deliver us from evil. The gates of heaven have been bombarded with that prayer from people in Ukraine in the last fortnight. It is also being prayed by residents of other East European countries and by citizens of other continents who fear what tomorrow may hold unless the evil of today is overcome. God, deliver us from evil. Lord, protect us from violence, shield us from harm, save us from war. And, of course, this comes on top of our other prayers for protection. We have spent two years beseeching God for shelter – from the virus, from the economic pain, the loss of friends and family, the cutting of jobs, the severing of connection, the brooding of anxious thoughts and despondent hearts. God, deliver us from evil. Is it not enough that we have labored in the sweltering heat of these last two years, must the world now endure this burden? God, deliver us from evil.

Today’s Bible readings come at the right moment for an anxious and suffering world. We cry for protection and God replies, “Yes.” God whispers “Yes” in the reading from Philippians, sings “Yes” in Psalm 27, and shouts “Yes” in Luke 13. No, wait. God’s “yes” is not shouted in today’s Gospel, it is wept. Jesus weeps God’s “yes” and he stands above Jerusalem and grieves the suffering of his people.

Now if you were going to pick a bird to represent Christ, what would you choose? What do you think? Surely something graceful – a dove serene and tranquil; or something majestic – an eagle gliding silently on the thermals, or powerful – a falcon diving at 200 miles an hour. Those would be my picks. You wouldn’t choose a vulture – too ugly. You wouldn’t pick a buzzard – disgusting eating habits. You wouldn’t choose a songbird – nice voice, but delicate and frail. You wouldn’t opt for an ostrich – it can’t fly, and what good is a bird that can’t fly? And of all the birds you would not pick as a symbol for Christ, at the top of the list would surely be the chicken.

Here’s why you wouldn’t choose a chicken – chickens can’t really fly (unless you call flapping its stubby little wings and staying airborne for three seconds flying) but God soars. Chickens are not that attractive; but God is captivatingly beautiful. ‘Chicken’ has even passed into our culture as another word for coward, but Christ is all sacrificial courage. So, what a shock it is to read Jesus likening himself to a chicken. And a female one at that. A drab old hen. Because, unattractive and undignified it might be, but the hen is a passionate, protective, possessive parent.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her children under her wings, but you were not willing!” Do you feel the passion? Do you see the tears in his eyes, hear the wobble in his voice?

If you have ever loved someone who has made self-destructive decisions, then you know how Jesus the mother hen feels as he stands on a hill looking over the city he loves. It’s the pain of a parent whose child makes poor choices but is closed off to reason and love; it’s the agony of the person who watches their spouse drowning in addiction; it’s the anguish of the friend whose companion is powerless over impulses that rob them of their dignity. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her children under her wings, but you were not willing!”

When you love, you are the most vulnerable person in the world. Love melts your defenses and leaves you wide open to a kind of suffering that folks with walls around their hearts can never know. You are prey to fear; you lie awake at night pleading for God to look after them, protect them, heal them. You would trade your wealth, your health, even your life for theirs. You find yourself imagining terrible things and you pray like you’ve never prayed before. Why do we put ourselves through the pain of loving people? Because there is no other way to live, I mean truly live – live the life that God has created for our fullness and joy and delight. Because however much anguish love brings, it is worth every tear, every sigh, every sleepless night.

Two neighbors were chatting. And the subject got around to their grown-up kids. And one on them confided that her son had been arrested for possession of drugs. This was not the first time this had happened. In fact, he had compiled a long rap sheet over several years. And the other neighbor said, “What again? After all you’ve done for that boy. How he has stolen from you, lied to you, brought embarrassment on your good name. And now I expect he wants you to get him out of trouble again? If he were my son, I’d disown him.” And the parent said, “Yes. If he were your son I probably would too. But he’s not. He’s mine. And I won’t.”

Can you see where Jesus’ words are taking us? To the vulnerable God. The powerless God. The Christ who lays down his life for the chicks out of pure crazy, irrational, unreasonable, sacrificial passion. Because there’s another animal in this short passage, I wonder if you noticed him. Some Pharisees come to Jesus and warn him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” And Jesus answers, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Listen, I will continue to heal and cure and bless, and beautify, and elevate, and liberate and lavish love on the people of this land.” Jesus calls himself a hen just two sentences after he called Herod a fox. The days are coming when the hen will be hunted, when the hen will be seized, when the hen will lay down her life for her chicks.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first. Which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers.”

We worship a God who stoops to our level, who came to live with us to be like us; not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as the means of rescue. God will not be an imperious eagle, soaring above us, untouchable and unmoved, aloof and remote. God will not be the gorgeous songbird – elusive, shy, nervous, defensive, always out of reach. God will be the mother hen.

And how should we live, as God’s chicks? In a farmyard the chicks wander about, pecking the ground, looking for food, exploring, as their curiosity takes them, oblivious to the watching presence of the hen. It makes me wonder how much I live my life, as if God did not exist. As I make my Lenten journey inwards, I don’t like what I find. I spot an attitude of independence – I don’t need God, I’ve got this; I spy a mindset of negligence – I don’t look for God; I discern a feeling of self-absorption – I don’t even notice the huge, protective wings that cover me as I peck my way around the farmyard. I take for granted the protection of the hen. I rarely stop to contemplate the miracle that I and my loved ones have made through another day without serious illness or accident. I’m quick to notice the things that go wrong, and am ready to complain when they do, but I’m not as vigilant in spotting the lucky escapes, the unexpected blessings, the thousand little rescue acts God performs for me every day. This Lent I pray that I might open my eyes and see those wings keeping me safe. And may we all gain a new and transforming vision of the sacrifice and the sanctuary, the passion and the protection, the jealousy and the downright tenacity of our mother hen.

About Theresa Wright