Luke 13:31-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18
In our reading from Luke, Jesus, who is headed for Jerusalem, which has a long history of persecuting prophets and rejecting God’s envoys, receives a warning from the Pharisees about Herod wanting to kill him. Jesus, however, is not intimidated by Herod, ‘Go and tell that fox Herod for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work”.’ In other words, I must do what must be done; I will not play chicken to Herod’s fox, but how I wish I could be the mother hen who protects her fragile brood under her wings. I wish I could gather Jerusalem under my arms like a hen gathering her chicks and shield them from what is to come.
It is such a beautiful image – Christ the mother hen – and it has deep roots in the Old Testament. Ruth, a vulnerable and displaced refugee, is blessed with the words, ‘may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.’ We find the image repeated in the psalms: Psalm 91, ‘he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find shelter.’ Here is a picture of divine, protective love. Of course, it is significant that Jesus’ use of this image is female: he pictures himself as the mother hen.
Jesus was not concerned with political correctness, but the fact is that he took a gentle and deliberately feminine image to contrast himself with the vicious, male fox that is Herod. There is surely an invitation here to join Jesus in giving female imagery its right place.
Here Christ pictures himself as covering and protecting his people, but there are other threats that Jesus covers and protects us from apart from political predators. Perhaps
surprisingly, we could begin with a reminder that we also need protection from God. The reading from 2 Corinthians picks up the narrative of Moses going up on the mountain
and communing with God, and it speaks of us as Christians beholding the glory of God – but not directly. It refers to ‘… unveiled faces, seeing the glory of God as though reflected
in a mirror…’ We can only see God as deflected by that mirror who is Christ. He is our Mediator – the mother hen who protects us from God’s searing glory that would otherwise consume us. Indeed, that is why we can gather in the presence of God in worship. That is why we can believe that God is present among us now, without our being destroyed.
This leads us to another sense in which Christ the mother hen covers us with her wings. In the Old Testament we find that God deals with sin by covering it. You will have heard of the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur, which is the day of atonement, the day when God deals with Israel’s sin. In the Old Testament there is a lot of blood and a lot of sacrifice on that day. But the root of the word ‘Kippur’ means ‘to cover’ and so Yom Kippur is literally The Day of Covering. We read in Psalm 32, ‘Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.’ When Christ laments over Jerusalem and longs to cover them as a hen covers her brood, he is longing too to cover their sins.
The classic ‘sin story’ is that of Adam and Eve. After their disobedience they made loin cloths to cover their shame. Perhaps there is an inkling there of our tendency to try to
cover up wrong, to hide it. There can be no cover-up with sin – it must be exposed, confessed, brought out into the light, and that can be painful. But then, praise God, it can be covered over – and so lose its destructive power. To those who feel the guilt and the pain of their wrong and carry the burden of shame, there is no better news than to say, ‘your sins are covered. By the graceful, forgiving wings of the mother hen they are covered over. Find shelter there.’
One last reflection on the mother hen: might it not also be an image of Christ’s body the church? Could ‘mother church’ also be mother hen, spreading her wings over the vulnerable and threatened? During the War, the church community of Chambon-Sur-Lignon in France sheltered over 5000 people – including 3500 Jews – from the Vichy government and the Nazis. The community became Christ, the mother hen, sheltering her chicks. When in February 1943, the leaders of the community were arrested, the policemen happened to arrive at dinner time and were invited to dine with the families of those they came to arrest. The attitude of the community was later summed up as, ‘we were doing what had to be done’ – words which echo Jesus, “Listen, I am performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work”.’ Or, in short, ‘I am doing what needs to be
done’. What needed to be done here was not just to give shelter to the Jews and others who were threatened, but to extend hospitality even to the agents of the fox – to expand
the bounds of the nest to the enemy. We are always challenged to go further!