Second Sunday in Lent, Luke 13:31-35
For many of us and for most of our lifetimes, the world’s problems have seemed far away in distant lands. But it seems that ever since September 11, 2001, the world’s problems have arrived on our doorsteps, painfully close to home. At least that’s my subjective experience, since I was just a few miles away from the terrorist attack in New York on that fateful day. The same is true for people in Arlington on that September day twenty years ago.
More recently, it’s been the global pandemic, the coronavirus and its variants that have been as close to us as the very air we breathe. Racial injustice and unrest and resulting protests affected our life together as a congregation when the Black Lives Matter banners were up. The riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 took place some 7 or 8 miles from here as the crow flies.
All of this is literally very close to our homes, our church. There seems to be no escaping the current crises. We are right smack dab in the middle of so much of our sorry world’s current troubles. Even war in Ukraine feels painfully close because of the nature of social media these days where so much of the violence is livestreamed.
When it comes to proximity to trouble, we’re in good company, for that’s so often where we find Jesus in the gospel according to Luke. Even at Jesus’ birth, his parents had to escape the clutches of the ruler Herod, who was threatened by the newborn king, and who ordered that all young male children in the region be killed.
The adult Jesus, in his public ministry, again as Luke reports, consistently inserted himself amidst the noisy crowds of people in need, right smack dab in the middle of their troubles. That’s been a striking feature of the stories from Luke we’ve been hearing Sunday after Sunday. Jesus is consistently among the suffering crowds.
And here again today, Herod reappears in threatening ways. As we heard, “some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
Jesus is not troubled or threatened by the impending trouble. Concerning Herod’s threat, Luke reports that Jesus said, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”
Herod the fox may threaten to come and lay waste to the henhouse, but Jesus in Luke likens himself to a fiercely protective mother hen in response to foxes like Herod: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills 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…!”
Christ, our mother hen. That’s a lovely, compelling image, a female image of our savior amidst so many biblical images that are male. Picture it: the crowds, all of us, gathered under her protective wings.
Indeed, the Christian witness is that Jesus accompanies us in our troubled places, finds us where we are in the thick of things, amidst all our troubles, without apparent escape, and is present to us to give us comfort, and a hiding place, a place of protection.
And this motherly, protective presence is made possible and is available to us even now because of the arc of Jesus’ public ministry when he himself was in the thick of trouble in his earthly journey. It’s an arc marked by three days. Hear this again: “Listen,” Jesus says in Luke, “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”
This, of course, is a reference to the final days of his life, when as a prophet he will indeed be killed in Jerusalem like all the other prophets, and the sacred work is finished when on the third day he rises again. “Today, tomorrow, and the next day [the third day] [Jesus] must be on [his] way.”
The entire trajectory of Jesus’ three years of public ministry, during which he cast out demons and performed cures, parallels the same arc of the last three days of his life. His entire ministry as reported in Luke had this cruciform shape of the three days, from the crowds, to the cross, to the tomb.
This arc of three days marks our lives in Christ as well. Precisely when we find ourselves burdened by the threat of our troubled world and even when we, like the people of old, may be unwilling to receive and maybe even reject the ministrations of our mother hen, Jesus nevertheless finds us amidst our own three-day trajectories of sin and death and toward new life in Christ.
Our lives take on the pattern and rhythms of the three days, where and when our mothering Christ emanating from the Trinity, God in three persons, where Christ makes home with the Father and the Spirit, gives us birth as new children from the womb of the font, a sacramental place of protection where our baptismal garments enfold us like mothering wings over us.
Moreover, the pattern of the three days is manifest when the time comes for us to sing in the Benedictus of the Holy, Holy, Holy at this very table: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We sing this song every Sunday. And every Sunday becomes a fulfillment of Jesus’ words of promise in Luke: “And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Well, we say and sing these words, and then when we eat the bread and drink of the cup, we indeed see our crucified and risen Lord, and we receive mother’s milk in the form of bread and wine, the dead but living Christ, his very living, life-giving presence to protect us.
From the vantage point available to us at the font and at the table, we perhaps see the cruciform arc of the three days in today’s reading from Genesis, where Abram is given a vision, and exhorted to not be afraid for the Lord is Abram’s shield who invites him to gaze at the countless stars in the heavens as a sign of the promised blessing of descendants even when Abram and Sarah were well beyond traditional child bearing age.
We perhaps see in that same story from Genesis Christ on the cross in the sacrificed animals cut in two. The blessing to Abram only occurred with a descent into terrifying darkness as on Good Friday amidst the three days: “As the sun was going down,” it reads in Genesis, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire and a flaming torch passed between these pieces [of sacrificed animals]. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’” (Genesis 15:12, 17-18)
From the vantage point of the arc of Christ’s last three days perhaps we see in the smoking fire pot in the Genesis story the new fire at the Vigil of Easter, and the flaming torch as the lit Paschal candle passing between us in the assembly in procession into a darkened church. And yet from the terrifying darkness comes the abundance of blessing, namely, the resurrected Christ, and the gifts of grace, mercy, forgiveness and more that flow from that new life.
Thus it is, sacramentally constituted in the very arc of three days, we discover the truth of Paul’s teaching in today’s reading from Philippians: “The Lord will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Philippians 3:21) That is the arc of the Christian life for us, we who are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and receive that new life also in the Eucharist – our humiliation is subsumed into the body of Christ’s glory and by grace we share in that glory.
Thus it is that we can stand firm in the Lord, we who are beloved. (cf. Philippians 4:1)
And in Christ it is all reckoned to us as righteousness. (cf. Genesis 15:6)
Thus it is that leaving this time and place with faith renewed, and in the power of Christ’s presence who continues to enfold us under her mothering wings, we return to the crowds, to all of the world’s troubles, to offer to the most vulnerable the very wings of motherly protection that Christ has given to us, a gift that keeps on giving.
May it be so among us for the sake of all those suffering in our ravaged world. God in Christ help us. Amen.