"How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Luke 13:34).
When I was young, my parents, once every year would take my sister and I to a farm in western Wisconsin for a short vacation. I know a farm in western Wisconsin is probably not a number one hot spot destination, but for a young Wisconsin boy like myself, this is a sort of holy pilgrimage without equal. Where else can a kid swing from a giant rope swing among haystacks in the barn? And go fishing in the creek behind the farmhouse, where we stayed? Every morning the rooster would crow to roust me from sleep. And that meant it was time to play. No school, no homework, no television. The agenda was just to run to the barn to swing from the giant rope swing and yell Geronimo! Or, I could just wander around the farm, and explore all the mysteries it held. For a young boy’s imagination, however, nothing was more interesting than watching and interacting with all the animals.
Horses grazed on the other side of the fence, often pausing to eat, to look around. Pigs snorted in the pig pen. Ducks and geese paddled along in the creek. Dogs and cats walked around as they pleased. I even liked the mice that burrowed into the haystacks in the barn. But what I loved most were the yellow and white baby chics that would shuffle around the yard following their mother, in her daily work, attending to the chics with food and keeping them away from trouble.
If I wanted to really have fun I could sneak along close to those baby chics to see them waddle along, but wherever they went the mother hen was with them. When I would get close to her little congregation the mother hen would stretch out her wings to cover that little assembly of chics. One thing was sure – that mother hen was not going to let me – a foreign threat – near her children.
In our Gospel reading today our Lord likens himself to a hen, saying, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!” It is interesting that our Lord compares Himself, His work, and His love to that of a hen. A hen is a female, a mother of a brood of chics – opposite the rooster which is the male chicken. We are probably all more comfortable and used to God’s more macho and manly attributes – He is the Lion of Judah, the warrior King, the God who fought for Moses and the Israelites against the Amalekites in battle. Our Lord, however, is not embarrassed or uncomfortable to in the same breath compare Himself to a mother hen – who throws out her wings over her chicks – to wage war against any threat – foreign or domestic.
There is nothing like the protection of a mother. I have heard of mothers doing crazy things for their children. There are all kinds of incredible stories out there about this. Periodically in the news you hear about a mother who lifts an entire car to release their pinned child trapped underneath. Mothers run into burning building to save their children. Or you hear stories about a mother giving a child a new kidney or life saving organ. Mother’s violently fight against any threat whatsoever it is that faces their child – it does not matter how great it is. When a mother feels that a child is threatened it is as if her own flesh and blood is threatened, for that child of her womb is of her own body – that child whom she birthed and nursed. If necessary mothers will die protecting their children, and do so without thinking twice about it.
In my case, on the farm, that mother hen would stop at nothing to shelter her chics under the shadow of her wings. She gathered that fluffy assembly of chics all around her and would never release her wings.
Like a protective mother, our Lord tenderly gathers His Christian congregation around him. He ministers to every need with fatherly compassion and the warm gentleness of a mother. As Isaiah records the Words of the Lord “And you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts so I will comfort you” (Is. 66:12b-13a).
If earthly mothers, even hens, love and protect their children, how much more does our heavenly Father, the creator of the heavens and earth, love and protect us? We, who left and rebelled against His paradise in Eden – we, who left His flock – we, who hid from his outstretched hand. God has not left nor departed. He was so grieved in His heart, he cried out and lament, “Adam where are you!” He promised to send a son – the seed of a woman – to crush the enemies head – and gather us once again into His holy presence.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem – dearest congregation – how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” And to gather his flock, He went to Jerusalem – into hostile territory – to stretch out his arms – and to defend all of his little ones.
In the bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, He does bloody battle against all enemies and threats – foreign and domestic. He covers our sin, covers the sins of those who sin against us, and He defends us from all physical and spiritual perils. He goes to the cross scorning its shame, and pours out his gifts and gentle speaking in the tender compassions of a loving mother.
He washes, anoints, and blesses his children. He bathes us in His rich life-giving waters and marks us with his blood. By stretching out His wings He preens and prunes – He beautifies and feeds. When He feels that you have strayed from the assembly He will extend his wings and bring you back in.
We are the apple of His eye and under the shadow of His wings we will shout with joy. We have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd. He has gathered us as a mother hen gathers her chics. And He protects and guides us as a valiant mother hen protects her chics from all the wild animals in the night. There are no limits to what He has done. ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.’
And though we are often tempted and threatened by the perils of the night – and face further dangers during this earthly life - the trumpets of Easter morning can already be heard – and you will see Him for yourself – and rest safely in the shadow of His wings. In the name of Jesus. Amen.