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The Lord's Grief
(A Lent Reflection)

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The Lord's Grief 

(Originally preached on the Second Sunday of Lent 2010) 

Read : St Luke 13: 31-35 

"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" 

I was sitting at my computer on Friday preparing the sermon for this morning when I heard that little noise which tells me that I had a new email. I checked my inbox and there indeed was an email with the subject "Make sure your loved ones are fully protected". I clicked on the email and there was the image of a meerkat inviting me to compare the market for life insurance quotes. 

Fond as I am of meerkats, and enchanted as I am by the TV adverts for "compare the market" (or "compare the meerkat"!) I opted on this occasion not to compare life insurance policies and I deleted the email.  

However, I thought about the subject of that message "Make sure your loved ones are fully protected". Indeed. If you love someone you will want to protect them; to protect them as best you can from danger or difficulty; from hurt or harm. Jesus said "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings". A loving parent will go to any lengths to protect his or her children. As Jesus' powerful image shows, this is an instinct which is common even in the animal world. "As a hen gathers her brood under her wings". 

Were any of my children were in some kind of danger I would do anything I could to protect them. But if they were in danger and I offered protection but they resisted that offer, refused the safety, and rejected the protection, I would be deeply grieved, and all the more so were the threatened danger to then overcome them.  

And grief is what Jesus expresses here in this lament.  

"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". 

And you were not willing. 

These must surely be amongst the saddest words in the whole of the Bible. 

And you were not willing. 

You can open your arms, but you cannot make anyone walk into them.  

And standing with open arms is the most vulnerable posture in the world --wings spread, breast exposed - putting yourself in grave danger for the sake of protecting another. But if you mean what you say about love, and if you truly want to offer protection - even should it be rejected - then this is how you stand. Such love is itself dangerous and costly.  

The outstretched arms of offered protection will yet get nailed to a cross. 

"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do". 

And to have such open and costly love rejected, the offer of safety refused and protection resisted, is to endure the pain not only of pierced hands, but of a pierced heart.  

"How often have I desired to gather you… but you were not willing" 

Jesus' words are full of anguish. As he laments the attitude of Jerusalem, it is not difficult to feel the pain that underlies these words.  

The Lord's grief is deep. 

Of course, the image of Jesus as a hen gathering her chicks under her wings is both memorable and motherly. But in the context it may not be as entirely cosy and comforting an image as at first appears. 

The whole passage clearly indicates that the context is one of danger, destruction and violence. Is there perhaps a link between Jesus' description of Herod as "that fox" and his image of the mother hen gathering her brood under her wings in the face of the danger of the big bad fox? Jesus as a mother hen may not be an obviously heroic image, but then that is typical of Jesus. He won't be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first. 

Which is, of course, exactly what happens. And when the mother hen dies - wings spread, breast exposed - she does so without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart. 

"How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing

Or again perhaps the picture in our minds should be that of a mother hen in a farmyard that is on fire with buildings collapsing and her chicks in grave danger. She wants to gather them under her wing to protect and shelter them. She may die, but they will survive. If they are willing to go to her.  

You see either of these images would more obviously fit the context of the passage. We are offered life and salvation by the sacrificial love of Jesus.  

But this offered protection is not forced on us;

we can reject the love He offers;
we can resist the protection he holds out to us;
we can refuse the safety he provides. 

"You were not willing" 

His love for us may take him even to death: the breaking of his body and the breaking of his heart. And still we can reject, resist and refuse.  

In Jesus' lament in this passage, and especially in these four words, "You were not willing", there is pain and there is anguish and there is grief. To offer love selflessly and unconditionally, in order of afford safety and protection in the face of danger, and to have that love rejected is deeply hurtful. 

Why would Jerusalem not be willing to accept the offered protection and sheltering of Jesus?  

Why would anyone not be willing to accept?  

Why are we not willing? 

And here is where the questions begin to get uncomfortable, and we want to avoid catching ourselves in the reflection of the mirror that is the Gospel account of Jesus' final journey to Jerusalem.  

Why would we ever want to reject the offer of comfort, protection and safety that God offers?  

Why would we act as if we were indifferent to it?  

Why do we seem to avoid that which we know to be for our best in favour of that which we know leads to destruction? 

Why indeed.  

And so Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem and the end is inevitable. 

But the hope remains that even in his dying we will find the life he offers and the protection he longs to provide.  

In Genesis chapter 15 we read of the promise of God to Abram, and the covenant of God with Abram; a covenant symbolised in the cutting in two of the sacrificial animals and passing between them. And in that image we see a foreshadowing of the Cross of Jesus in which God offers himself as a sacrifice and (like the smoke and fire in the Genesis passage which symbolise God) He himself passes through death and division to bring life and reconciliation.  

The mother hen will give her own life for the love of her chicks; for their protection and for their lives.  

Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem;  

Jerusalem the hard hearted;  

Jerusalem the cold hearted;  

Jerusalem, for the sake of whom he will become the broken hearted.  

Resisted, refused, rejected. His grief is great. "A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief".  

The nails have pierced deeply, the sacrifice is total, but the arms remain outstretched, and the love is yet offered.  

In the face of such a deep and painful grief, in the face of such a great and costly love would we have it said of us. . . "but you were not willing"? 

Rev David Denniston, February 2010


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