There is a small chapel on one of the hills overlooking Jerusalem which, tradition says, is on the spot where Jesus wept over the city. The wall behind the altar is made of glass, and so there is a beautiful view of the city. On the front of the altar, one observer writes, is the image of a rooster, “a bright, fierce-looking bird made out of colored tiles with a flock of little chicks under his wings.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, “Chicken and Foxes,” P. 124)
Now, a rooster has spikes and talons–you do not want to get in a fight with a rooster–though some people apparently love to watch cock fights. Hens can be pretty fierce too–that’s where we get the term “henpecked,” after all–but a hen’s main defense is fluffing herself up, pecking, and getting in the way of a fox who is after her chicks. By literally offering her body to the attacker, she can hope to satisfy his hunger with her large body so that he will leave her chicks alone.
“Get away from here,” some Pharisees warned Jesus as he headed toward Jerusalem, “for Herod wants to kill you.” “Go and tell that fox for me,” Jesus replied, “…that I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he cried, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” “How do you like that image of God?” one preacher asks. “If you are like me [she says] it is fine in terms of comfort, but in terms of protection, it leaves something to be desired.” (BBT, Ibid., p. 125)
“I’d turn back if I wuz you,” the Cowardly Lion reads on the sign as he, Dorothy, Scarecrow & Tin Man enter the enchanted forest surrounding the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle. Sounds like a good idea to him, to all of them, really, but they lock arms and press forward. “Get away from here,” some Pharisees warned Jesus as he headed toward Jerusalem, “for Herod wants to kill you.” Wings outstretched, breast exposed, is the most vulnerable position, but Mother Hen Jesus presses on toward Herod the Fox.
Like the prophets before him, Jesus takes the path of most resistance, telling us not what we want to hear, but what we need to hear. (Robin Meyers, The Underground Church, p. 113) Courage and commitment are our only defenses, but love is a fierce defensive weapon, stronger than death, as it turns out, though it never looks it at the time. Who would draw that conclusion from the cross? Who would draw that conclusion from the bodies piled up before the lines of British soldiers in Gandhi’s famous salt march? Who would draw that conclusion from the bullet-riddled bodies of children and teachers lying on classroom and hallway floors in Newtown, CT? Who would draw that conclusion as the fox licks his lips and picks a feather out of his paws? Love is stronger than death?
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it?” Don’t you think Jesus is still weeping over Jerusalem, and Washington, and Baghdad, and Kabul? “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing?”
“Most of our churches are friendly, comfortable, and well appointed,” writes Rev. Robin Meyers, author of the book a number of us are reading this Lent–The Underground Church. “But who goes there expecting to be ‘undone’? Who expects to weep at recognizing the world as it really is, or to shudder at the certain knowledge that until we start taking risks it is likely to stay that way?” (P. 4) We are warned not to mix religion and politics, but who does not weep at the deadly foolishness that is being engineered in Washington? We’re all madly driving off a cliff, indiscriminately taking everyone we can with us–men, women, and children, young, old, everybody’s in this Sequester Bus–giving new meaning to the wisdom that an eye for an eye eventually makes the whole world blind. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Washington, Washington, city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you!” Who wouldn’t weep?
What’s a would-be follower of Jesus to do? If “I’d turn back if I wuz you” isn’t an option, what is? At the very least, it seems to me, every one of us can pray for our leaders in Washington and in Montpelier. While that may sound like something of a cop-out, a religious trifle, you may not have allowed yourself to be immersed in prayer enough. When we lift someone up into the powerful, even searing, presence of God and simply turn them over to God’s care and attention, praying that they be open to divine wisdom and direction and healing rather than directing God to have them vote “yay” or “nay” on some particular piece of legislation, we unleash a power that is far beyond our imagination or manipulation. And, by the way, this is not an entirely “safe” option–we may find ourselves caught up in the force of this power, and might even find that we need to contact our legislator, to express our views and opinions. And then we might find that we want to join with others working toward a new vision of the common good, either here in our community or maybe on a national or even international level. You just never know where a little prayer is going to lead you, so watch out for this second “Practice for the Way” whose candle we lit this morning. Courage and commitment may be our only defenses but daring greatly for Love is mighty armor indeed, as Paul referred to the “whole armor of God.”
“Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” “I’d turn back if I wuz you.” We may wish that Jesus had chosen a mother lion or bear instead of a mother hen to describe God’s love and protection. We may wish that God hadn’t chosen a cross as a symbol of the extent to which God would go to save us and stay in solidarity with us through every evil and heartache and struggle and suffering life throws at us. But we know that sometimes love requires that we keep going on anyway.
What fox are you facing? Is it a relationship that you know will kill you–or at least sap all the life out of you? Is it illness or anxiety? Is it a person at work who makes your life miserable? Is it your own self-image that is eating you away from the inside? “I may be knocked down now,” the southern expression goes, ” but I’m goin’ on anyway. I may be scared out of my mind, but I’m goin’ on anyway… I’m goin’ on, because there is One who goes on with me. Jesus may have had to walk that lonesome valley all by himself, but we don’t have to. God has walked every valley we’ve been through and is with us now. Tears may be in both our eyes, but I feel his elbow locked in mine, I feel her strong wing gathering me in. The cross is not the end of the story. That’s just the first day. But the cross can give us courage and strength nonetheless. Hear this poem by Roger Courtney, entitled, “I am standing before the cross”–
I am standing before the cross in all its brutality
and feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.
Why could the church not have a nice
life-affirming symbol instead of a cross?
Something to remind us to love each other and
that love will always triumph in the end.
But perhaps that would be just too easy.
Perhaps we need reminding
that to love unconditionally often comes at a cost
when we cross the barriers of prejudice and exclusion
that society puts up to separate us from the poor and despised,
from our traditional enemies;
when we truly stand up for what is right
we too may be rejected and ridiculed.
The cross reminds us that love has no boundaries, no limitations.
We must keep loving, regardless of the consequences.
The cross is not a symbol of defeat
but a symbol of the victory of unconditional selfless love
which should support and inspire us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
(Roger Courtney, on progressivechristianity.org)
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it?…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing?” It gives a whole new meaning to the word “chicken,” doesn’t it? Let us be on our way, or rather, “the Way.” Amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark