Maundy Thursday, April 18 5:00 & 7:30 pm
We remember Jesus’ commandment to love one another, and we share in Holy Communion.
5:00 pm – a special kid-friendly service
7:30 pm – Worship with Holy Communion
Good Friday Tenebrae Service April 19, 7:30 pm
In this tenebrae service we hear readings that help us meditate on the crucifixion of Jesus.
Please join us Easter Sunday
8:00 am Worship with Holy Communion
10:00 am Worship with Holy Communion
11:30 am Easter Coffee Hour
11:30 am Easter Egg Hunt (bring your basket)
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” Luke 13:34
If I were to ask you how you picture Jesus, what would you say? You probably have any number of images in your mind that you’ve collected from children’s Bibles or stained glass windows. If I pushed you to name your favorite biblical image of Jesus, you might go for something like “shepherd” or “teacher.” If I pushed you a little more to name a biblical metaphor for Jesus, you might come up with the light of the world or the bread of life or the vine from which the branches grow.
I’m guessing you would not come up with “chicken.”
Yes, the gospel reading puts it a little more poetically. Jesus says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” It’s a gorgeous image of maternal love and protection that Jesus claims as his own, an image that one scholar describes as both “fierce and vulnerable.”[i]
We might prefer for Jesus to choose a different image. Why can’t he borrow from the prophet Hosea and be a lion, crushing his enemies with a single blow, or (another Hosea image) a bear ready to charge in and set things right? (Hosea 11:10 and 13:6)[ii] Or, if we must have a bird image, why not the language from last week’s psalm (Psalm 91), from which we get the hymn “On Eagle’s Wings”? In that hymn we sing about God lifting us up on eagle’s wings so that we need not fear the terror of the night.
Today we don’t get those images. Today we get a chicken. A mother hen, yes. But a chicken nonetheless.
The image takes on a deeper meaning when we hear Herod described as a fox. The Pharisees come to Jesus with a warning: Herod is out to get him. Herod is a classic biblical villain. He is a political pawn of the Roman government, just clever enough to be dangerous and just foolish enough to be manipulated by others. Herod’s only tools are intimidation and violence, which makes him a fox circling the henhouse. Jesus is increasingly becoming a political problem for Herod, and we know how Herod deals with perceived enemies. Remember that Herod was the one who imprisoned John the Baptist and later had him beheaded.
Notice that Jesus is the one who calls Herod a fox in response to the Pharisees’ warning: “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.’” I love this response. It shows no fear of Herod’s power. Jesus seems to be saying: Herod will be Herod. I’m focused on the work of healing.
Jesus is looking down the road toward Jerusalem. He knows that death awaits him there. He knows that he does not have much time. That’s why we get a reference to the moment when he will enter Jerusalem in triumph, a moment we will celebrate on Palm Sunday – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And, still more subtle, we hear Jesus say that he will finish his work on the third day. We know what happens three days after Jesus is crucified.
No one other than Jesus gets these references. But for us, on this side of the empty tomb, we are able to see that Jesus knows he is about to die and does not flinch. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a mother hen defending her chicks, but it is indeed both fierce and vulnerable. Like a mother hen, Jesus puts his own life between the evil of the world and us. He faces down the fox, who will at first appear to have won the fight. But that is not the end of the story. The fox does not know about resurrection.
Our world is full of Herods, who, when they feel threatened, know only intimidation and violence as a response. We see the effects day after day of an evil run rampant. We have certainly seen it this week as once again people are massacred while practicing their faith. Once again we see the sin of white supremacy claim innocent lives. Once again we see people murdered while worshipping the same God that we worship this morning.
I don’t know how much more I can take. We saw it in Charleston. We saw it in Pittsburgh. We now see it in Christchurch, New Zealand.
My friend Misty moved to Christchurch a few months ago with her family because she took a position as a professor at the University of Canterbury there. Her account of Friday’s horror is heartbreaking. Fifty people dead. The university and local schools were on lockdown for hours. Misty was separated from her husband and two children for most of the day as she and her colleagues worked to keep other people’s children safe and calm. As of yesterday they were still working to connect with all of their PhD students, several of whom are Muslim. Kids who go to school with her children are among the injured. A father from the school is among the dead.
We all grieve alongside the people of Christchurch, especially the Muslim community there. We will pray for them in our Prayers of the People today. And we ask: What can we do?
Earlier in Luke’s gospel Jesus has said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
In the chapter just after today’s gospel, Jesus says it again: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
When Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me,” he’s asking us to risk death. Not just physical death, but the death of playing it safe, the death of feeling too embarrassed to speak up, the death of putting concern for reputation above what is right. One of the things Jesus is asking us to do is put ourselves between evil and the ones whom evil would harm. Just like the mother hen would do.
Strangely, this week, as I was pondering what it means that Jesus uses this image of the mother hen, I stumbled upon a news story about a fox who just a few days ago snuck into a chicken coop at night on a big farm in France.[iii] I’m sure the fox thought that it was dinner time. The next morning the fox’s dead body was found in the corner of the chicken coop. Some combination of the 3000 chickens had joined forces and pecked him to death.
Now let me be clear. I don’t want to be too literal here. I’m not suggesting we should gang up and return violence for violence. But what if we take a lesson from the solidarity of the chickens? What if we stood together as people of faith and resisted prejudice and evil in all its forms? The foxes always think they are more powerful than the chickens. The foxes assume that their predatory ways will prevail. But what if we came together and said no more?
Because every time we allow a stereotype to be invoked without being challenged, when we remain silent in the face of a prejudiced comment, when we hold back because we’re too scared to say something – then we allow the world to be less safe for all of us, but especially for our Muslim neighbors, our Jewish neighbors, our black or brown neighbors, our LGBTQ neighbors, our disabled neighbors.
Evil is on the loose, prowling around like the fox looking for the next way into the henhouse.
So let’s put our mothering wings together and, like the Savior we follow, risk everything to stop it. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
[i]See David Schnasa Jacobsen’s commentary at https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3990
[ii]Thank you to Dr. Audrey West: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3010&fbclid=IwAR3713q6xb_3rUYyTONLwHF0tjWpkGFgtVoWl8Au-gGU3CQ7EMEP923eOZU
“Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl.” Mark 6:27-28a
If you were hoping for a nice uplifting story from the Bible today, you have come to the wrong place. Today the gospel of Mark does not serve up an inspiring story of someone who leaves behind a shady past to follow Jesus. There’s no feeding of the hungry, curing of the sick, or raising of the dead. There are no poetic prayers, no rousing sermons. Just one long and deadly soap opera.
It’s not enough that Herod has John killed. Herod has John killed even though he knows John is a righteous and holy man. Even though Herod likes to listen to what John has to say.
It’s not enough that the events leading up to John’s death rival an episode of Game of Thrones– a pathetic grudge, a scorned wife, a girl manipulated into a seductive game, a violent and bloodthirsty murder. The results of the horror aren’t even hidden. This meaningless cruelty is on full display. John’s head is literally brought out on a platter, served up for all the powerful people to see.
On most Sundays when we dive into the gospel assigned for the day, we look at what the text tells us about ourselves and what it tells us about God. Ultimately we seek to discover what that gospel passage reveals to us about the promises that we have through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But I have squeezed this story again and again throughout the week and have been unable to find much good news in it. I’ve held it up to the light, discussed it with colleagues, read commentaries, and I’m pretty sure had at least one nightmare about it.[i] But I’ve got nothing. No neat and tidy messages of hope in this one, I’m afraid.
I suspect that the placement of this story in Mark’s gospel is intentional. Last week we heard in the passage just before this one how Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, telling them to carry nothing with them and to rely instead on the generosity of the people they would meet. Remember that Jesus also prepares them for the inevitable rejection they would face along the way. It was a daunting mission, but the disciples hit the road as instructed, and they were able to cure many people who were sick or possessed by demons.
And right after today’s John the Baptist interlude, we hear this verse about the disciples’ return from their travels: “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.” So our tale of beheading, dripping with blood, falls between the time when Jesus sends out the disciples and the time when the disciples return to him. I think the author of Mark’s gospel is leaning into the point that being a follower of Jesus is not an easy path. The message seems to be: “If you’re looking for fame and fortune – or even just security – following Jesus is not the best choice. And truth be told, it’s just as likely to lead to a jail cell and a violent death.” The whole John the Baptist situation brings to mind what 16thcentury Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila is reported to have said: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”[ii]
While I hope none of you have felt threatened by the possibility of beheading lately, there is something true about a story that doesn’t resolve itself in any kind of happily-ever-after way. Our lives are often messy and painful, without easy resolutions or happy endings. Like John the Baptist in his jail cell, we sometimes feel trapped and forgotten by God and unsure what will happen next. It’s not a good feeling, but it’s more common than we’re willing to admit.
There’s another way in which the placement of this story in Mark is revealing. To get to some good news, we have to keep reading. Right after the awful story of John’s beheading is Mark’s version of the feeding of the five thousand. That’s a story of abundance in the midst of depletion. A story of community coming together to make sure that no one goes hungry. A story of God’s bountiful grace – a grace that keeps catching us by surprise because we’re so accustomed to having to scratch and scramble for so much in this life, and we can’t believe such grace could possibly be free.
So the good news may not be found in the story of an awful dinner party that ends with a head on a platter. The good news is found in another dinner party that ends with thousands of full bellies and twelve platters of leftovers. The first party feels all too familiar, but it’s the second one that embodies the promises of God’s kingdom.
As many of you know, I spent the last week at Confirmation Camp out at Cross Roads. I serve as one of several faculty members who work with the camp staff to plan and lead a week of Bible study, crafts, games, music, worship, service projects in the community, and lots of laughter and fun.
At camp we have something called Foil Feast on Thursday evening. It’s like a giant picnic. Each of us gets to choose a jumble of ingredients – meat, potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, seasonings and sauces of various kinds. We put those ingredients into a foil packet and wrap it up tightly. Then the packets are cooked for a long time over hot coals so that when we open them back up, we are overwhelmed by the smell and taste of a delicious meal ready to gobble up. While the food is cooking, all kinds of things are happening. Some kids are sitting on a blanket making bracelets. Others are playing volleyball. A few girls are teaching each other how to do a Dutch braid. Other kids are sitting at picnic tables talking and playing with some kind of magic cards. There are Frisbees and a giant Jenga set and some kickball and different games being invented right there on the spot.
There’s music playing, of course, and when the “Cha Cha Slide” starts, a dance party breaks out. Kids and counselors rush to the middle of a grassy area and dance together as the song instructs: “One hop this time…Right foot let’s stomp…Left foot let’s stomp…Cha cha real smooth…”
I look around and see all of these people dancing and playing and eating together – different ages, different races and cultures and languages, different family situations. I see kids who are struggling with mental illness. I see kids who are able to talk about their gender identity or sexual orientation for the first time. I see kids who are worried about sick parents or siblings, kids who are grieving, kids who are hoping this year at school will be better than last year. I see adults who love these young people deeply – and do whatever we can to make them feel seen and heard and loved.
One of my colleagues looks around at Foil Feast and reminds us, “This looks a lot like the kingdom of God to me.” And indeed it does.
The theme for our week at camp was the same as the one for the Youth Gathering in Houston: “This Changes Everything.” The “this” in that phrase is God’s grace. In the biblical witness and in our lived experience we see again and again that God’s grace does not mean that life will be perfect. But it does mean that we are not alone in our brokenness or our pain. It means we are not responsible for saving ourselves. We have God’s grace as a gift.
Jesus sends us out into the world, and Jesus calls us home. In between we will experience many things: joy, pain, gnawing hunger, full bellies, hearts full of love, hearts broken. We may not lose our heads like John the Baptist, but we will sometimes lose our hope. Throughout all of it we know that a better feast awaits us – a feast that has no end, a feast of which we catch a glimpse when we receive the bread and wine this morning.
Whatever you are going through, may you come to this table knowing that you are held by God’s grace – a grace that truly changes everything. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
[i]I am deeply indebted to this essay by Debie Thomas for giving me some inspiration: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=1835