One of the things I learned early on in ministry is that sometimes, even often, pastors will be called upon to conduct funeral or memorial services for people we did not know very well. Occasionally that’s on us (we didn’t spend enough time visiting); other times it’s a culture that allows for people tangentially related to the church to call upon the institution in time of need; and in special cases, someone you know and love in your church family asks if you will extend the circle of your care to include the uncared-for in their own circle. I’ve been the one to say a few words at a ne’er-do-well uncle’s “pauper’s burial,” a program funded by the city for indigents. I’ve stood in the mud of an early-spring cemetery with the two families of a man who remarried, watching the uneasy rapprochement between the now middle-aged stepchildren he raised and children he left. And I’ve been up to the country to bury the matriarch of a blue-collar clutch who clucked at her chicks to warn them from danger and was frustrated by their responses often.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that.” (Luke 13:34, CEB)
It was the first, but not the last, service for which I used this text, but I will confess I used it sweetly. The hen with the chicks under her wings can’t really protect them from the fox, you know. She can comfort them under her wings in the moment of crisis. She can lay down her life for them.
The mother hen I buried up in the countryside of Maine had been the one to speak honestly with her children and her grandchildren about their paths in life. They made her life hard. When she died at 75, great-grandchildren were in baby seats or held on hips at the graveside. She gave warnings, shared wisdom, and offered protection — but they didn’t want that.
Jesus is honest with those who will listen. He names their hypocrisy and offers a hope for redemption, even second chances. His path is a loving one, but it is a hard one. There is no protection from death. We are all going to face it. There is no avoiding a reckoning with life or with God. Will we gather under the wings of the mother hen? Or will we insist on going it alone?
Mothering God, thank you for offering the shelter of your wings. Amen.
I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.