As we move further into Lent and as the world offers things we love — like the promise of spring, which arrives one week from today; and things we don’t love, like uncertainty now that the world has entered the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic – I am drawn to the idea that God’s Love can enfold us in a way similar to how a mother hen enfolds her chicks in her wings.
Not that I imagine God in the way that some other church leaders do. For instance, I was turned off by a headline in yesterday’s “Edmonton Journal.” This was for an article about a Canadian priest who is staying in Ukraine to offer his services to Ukrainians despite the dangers posed by the Russian invasion. The headline quoted Father Yuriy saying, “Where there’s God, there’s victory.”
I applaud this priest’s courage and dedication, and I support his fervent hope that the Russian invasion is defeated, and that Ukraine soon emerges from the death and destruction it is suffering.
But I am also aware that patriarchs in the Russian Orthodox Church support the invasion and that Russian President Vladimir Putin considers his invasion to be a divine plan to reunify Slavic Christianity.
Unfortunately, it has ever been thus during the long centuries when Christianity has been the religion of Empire. This misuse of Christianity started in the year 312 with Constantine the Great’s slander that he had experienced a vision of Jesus before his battle with another contender for the title of Roman Emperor, and that Jesus’ divine intervention was why he won this battle. Constantine’s slander also helps to explain why he then legalized Christianity, why he was baptized near the end of his long misrule of Rome in 327, and why one of his successors, Emperor Theodosius, made Christianity the only legal religion in the Empire later in the Fourth Century
From that time until today, virtually all European wars have been fought with the support of church leaders on every side; and sadly, the invasion of Ukraine looks like it will not be an exception.
Regardless of who wins, I am sure the outcome in Ukraine will not reflect God’s will because for me, God is not a magical Being who intervenes to either protect or punish humans. This is also why I strongly disagree with a common saying of many people of faith that [quote] “everything happens for a reason.” I agree that we can gain spiritually from almost any occurrence in our lives whether these are things we love, like the end of a pandemic, or things we hate, like illness and pain. But God is not a Being who makes things happen so that we will grow. Life happens, and we either grow closer to the Love that we trust is our source, or we don’t.
One of the roles of the church is to support our growth in virtues, like beauty, truth, and solidarity. Unfortunately, there will be many instances where our advice will be misplaced and where our efforts will not yield the expected fruit. But as followers of Jesus, we try.
I love the metaphor from today’s Gospel reading of Jesus’ love being likened to the love of a mother hen enfolding her chicks in her wings, and I trust in it, even though I don’t envisage God as a conscious being like a hen, a human, or a super-human.
As for the rest of the passage, I don’t rely too much on it. I can see how it fits with Lent because it is set during Jesus’ journey with friends from Galilee to Jerusalem and because it offers a lament for Jerusalem, which was destroyed several decades before Luke wrote his gospel.
I get more from Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes’ poem on this metaphor, which we heard this morning and which he released last Monday from his home in Chicago. His poem applauds Jesus for choosing to be a hen in the realm of the fox and for choosing kindness in the face of evil. It also suggests we do the same because — in a world filled with foxes like Vladimir Putin and church misleaders — we are already under the wings of God’s Love.
Enfolded in God’s wings, we are already healed and already part of the great Ocean of Love. This is true whether the pandemic comes to an end or not, and whether Ukraine is restored to independence or not.
Most of us feel drawn to struggles for healing, peace, and justice. But whether we achieve them or not, we are already OK.
Each Lent, I try to remember this metaphor as I walk and stumble in joy with fellow pilgrims towards Easter. We may not always get the leadership we need in a pandemic, and our friends may not always prevail against evil foxes like Putin in Russia. But we will always be offered new life in the face of difficulties as well as at the end of life.
God’s Love is our Source; God’s Love enfolds us like a mother hen enfolds her chicks; and God’s new life is an eternal promise, which we celebrate every Easter, and which we can taste again at any moment in the struggle for peace, justice, and reconciliation.
Thanks be to God. Amen.