“How often have I desired to gather you together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”
On March 12, 1987, thirty-five years ago yesterday, the United States Congress passed a resolution designating the month of March as Women’s History Month. The opening clause of that resolution declared, “American women from every race, class, and ethnic background have made historical contributions to the growth and strength of our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways.” The resolution goes on to say that the role of women in American history has “consistently been overlooked and undervalued.” And so, according to the 1987 congressional resolution Women’s History Month was established as a way to encourage “appropriate ceremonies and activities” to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women.
So, that’s a bit of our cultural history, but what about our religious history? Well, in many ways the same exact declarations could be made about the church. We acknowledge that throughout the history of the church women from every race, class, and ethnic background have made historical contributions to the growth and strength of the church in countless recorded and unrecorded ways,” and at the same time, the role of women in the church has been “consistently overlooked and undervalued.” This is true even in the Bible! Did you know that in the Bible, there are only 93 women who speak? Of those 93 women, only 49 are named and thereby given a public identity. And of all the tens of thousands of words in this book, only 14,056 words are spoken by women, which is just slightly over one percent of the entire Bible.
So, why I am sharing all of this information about the role of women in our collective cultural, religious, and biblical histories? Because I believe against the backdrop of this cultural, religious, and biblical history, the image of Jesus as a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings is all the more surprising. In our gospel reading, Jesus is warned by the religious leaders that his very life might be in danger, that King Herod is plotting to kill him. In response to this warning, Jesus says, “Tell Herod, that old fox, to take a hike, because I fully intend to continue the ministry I came here to do.” Jesus is determined to continue his work of building for the kingdom of God. And as part of that determination, he turns his attention toward the city of Jerusalem, which he knows will be his final destination. Jesus turns his attention toward that most holy of cities, and he expresses God’s deep and abiding desire to gather God’s people together, to heal and to reconcile, to bring about God’s dream of a world renewed, restored, and made whole once again. How often have I desired to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
Now, of course, there are many images of Jesus that we hold dear. Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus the Lamb of God. Jesus the Lion of Judah. But I’d be willing to guess that most of us don’t spend much time thinking about Jesus the Mother Hen.
So, this morning, what do we make of this image? What does it tell us about the mission and ministry of Jesus? Well, first of all, we should note that the image of a Mother Hen sometimes comes with negative connotations. Sometimes in our contemporary context, a “mother hen” is someone who is overprotective and overbearing. Nobody really likes to be around a “mother hen.” Unless, of course, you’re the helpless baby chick in need to protection. Unless, of course, there is a dangerous predator on the prowl, like a fox! Unless you feel vulnerable and exposed and afraid. Unless you need to know the power of unconditional love. Those are the times you and I need to be in the presence of Jesus the Mother Hen.
Over the course of this past week, as I reflected on the image of Jesus as Mother Hen, I looked back at an old picture I had taken years ago of a small mosaic on the front of an altar in a tiny chapel on the side of the Mount of Olives just outside the city of Jerusalem. The mosaic depicts a Mother Hen with her wings outstretched and several of her chicks in the safety of her embrace. Around the perimeter of the mosaic are the words of Jesus, “How often have I desired to gather you together.” Then at the bottom of the image are the words, “But you were not willing.”
Now, in the past when I looked at the picture of this mosaic, I saw primarily lamentation. I saw sadness and grief. I was focused on the separation between God and God’s people. I was focused on the words, “You were not willing.” But this week, when I took another look at this picture, instead of lamentation, I saw invitation. Instead of sadness and grief, I saw promise. Instead of separation, I saw community. Instead of focusing on the words, “You were not willing,” I focused on the words, “How often I have desired.” And I realized that from the very beginning of creation, God’s desire has been to gather us together. God’s desire has been a world characterized by peace and justice. God’s desire has been a world that is a reflection of the very goodness and glory of God. That is God’s desire. And even though time and again God’s people have rejected that vision,God’s invitation has never been rescinded. God’s promise has never been nullified. God’s desire has never wavered. And so, God stands with wings outstretched waiting for us to come home. Waiting to embrace us with unconditional love. Waiting to fulfill the vision of world healed, renewed, and restored.
My friends, this morning, on this Second Sunday in Lent, we need Jesus the Mother Hen. In a world torn apart by war and pestilence. In a world paralyzed by fear and suspicion. In a world marred by human pride and arrogance. We need to be reminded of God’s desire to gather us together, to embrace us with unconditional love, and to form us as a people who know what it means to walk by faith. And so, this morning, I would like to close with a prayer written almost a thousand years by Anselm, the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury.
Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you; *
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.
Often you weep over our sins and our pride, *
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds, *
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life; *
by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness; *
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead, *
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us; *
in your love and tenderness, remake us.
In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness, *
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.