2nd Sunday of Lent: Lament over Jerusalem
March 17, 2019
This scripture passage is often labeled “The Lament Over Jerusalem,” and this morning seems like an appropriate time, a right and necessary space, for lament.
We lament the lives taken by the gunman at the mosques in New Zealand.
We lament the deep grief of those whose loved ones were killed or are missing.
We lament the fear in the hearts and spirits of Muslims around the world—a fear that started long before these attacks and continues, intensified, in the wake of them.
We lament that there are people in this world so filled with hatred that they would perpetrate violence against other human beings.
We lament the many, many people who harbor hatred in their hearts; whose spirits are being suffocated by lies, fear, and animosity.
We lament every media outlet, every Facebook meme and comment, every politician, every pulpit that spews negativity and falsehoods about Muslims, about Jewish people, about people fleeing for their lives from South and Central America, about people of color in this country, about people whose gender identity, whose sexuality doesn’t fit the assumed norm—about anyone who is different, who is, somehow, “other.”
We lament the feelings of fear and hopelessness and powerlessness that lead so many into white nationalist and white supremacist groups.
We lament our own feelings of fear and hopelessness and powerlessness in the face of what seems an overwhelming evil on the part of a few and an overwhelming apathy and impotence on the part of many.
There is so very much for us to lament this morning. And somehow being together and knowing that Jesus is also with us in our grief, in our confusion, in our anger—in our lamentations . . . It does not make the world right, but maybe it makes it bearable.
And so, with hearts full of our own lamentations, we turn to this brief scene of Jesus’ lamentation over Jerusalem:
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!
In discussing this passage, people often talk about how Jesus longs to gather Jerusalem under her wings, but that’s not actually what Jesus says. Jesus longs to gather Jerusalem’s children under her wings. And maybe the terms “Jerusalem” and “your children” are used interchangeably here. But, since we are trying to read Jesus from the margins this Lent, I wonder if there is, in fact, a distinction being made here.
Maybe Jerusalem is the power entity that kills the prophets and stones apostles—the systems and structures that resist change, that get rid of opposition at all costs, that seeks the profit of the few at the expense of the many.
Maybe Jerusalem’s children are the people suffering under the systems of Jerusalem—the poor to whom Jesus preaches the good news; the sick who Jesus heals; the oppressed who Jesus frees. And maybe the children are even, also, those benefiting materially from the systems of inequality and oppression—because Jesus knows their spirits are dying and their hearts are worn.
There is a story that comes to mind when I think of Jesus’ gathering the children. Last year, on October 26 at 1:30 in the afternoon, a small Christian community in The Hague began to worship. And they kept worshiping, around the clock, until January 30 of this year—over three months. Pastors cycled in and out of the pulpit. Worshipers took shifts in the plastic chairs circled around the altar. They worshiped because a Dutch law forbids police from disrupting a worship service to make an arrest. And the church building was a temporary home to the Tamrazyan family. The five family members had fled Armenia nine years earlier and the Dutch courts had recently ordered them to return. Worship at that church only stopped when a policy shift granted temporary protections to the Tamarazyan family and other migrants.
And so Jesus, through the church, opened up her wings and gathered in the vulnerable chicks—to the children of Jerusalem suffering under the powers of Jerusalem.
Another aspect of note in this lamentation is that Jesus presents himself as a mother hen. The feminine imagery for Christ is striking, and so is the animal imagery. The divine feminine is not unheard of in Jewish tradition. Writer Debie Thomas notes many places in Hebrew scripture where we see God as female:
“God as enraged she-bear (Hosea 13:8). God as soaring mother eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11-12). God as laboring woman (Isaiah 42:14). God as mom of a healthy, happy toddler (Psalm 131:2). God as skilled midwife (Psalm 22:9-10).”
But Jesus does not present himself as a powerful bear or a majestic eagle or a human mother, but a hen. And a hen who is in the territory of Herod—“that fox.” The hen is not powerful, but vulnerable. Thomas describes this image of Jesus as mother hen, wings spread and empty, as an image of “a mother bereft. A mother in mourning. A mother struggling with failure and futility.”
This image Jesus gives us captures the longing and lament he feels as he contemplates both Jerusalem—where he will soon be killed—and the children of Jerusalem.
In many ways, Jerusalem does not change. Today, we still lament over “Jerusalem”–over the powers that would stone the prophets; the powers that want things to remain the same; that want to maintain the status and the wealth and the false perceptions of safety that the status quo affords them. Jerusalem will always be with us.
But also, Christ will always be with us. Christ’s longing does not change. Here in Luke, chapter 13, Jesus laments over Jerusalem; chapter 19, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem; shortly after that, Jesus dies on the cross out of love for us, out of God’s longing to gather us in and be reconciled with us. And soon the Holy Spirit comes to us with that same longing—that we would gather together under the shelter of the divine, mothering wings.
This image of Jesus as a mother hen gathering her chicks can be a comforting image for us in our own seasons of grief and lament.
But the image is only comforting for the children of Jerusalem, not so much for Jerusalem itself. It is only comforting for those who are not threatened by viewing God in female terms. It is only comforting for those who are not filled with animosity towards the other chicks that God is gathering under her wings. It is only comforting for those willing to accept their status as children, as vulnerable, as in need of Divine comfort and protection.
Those who think they are the one in charge and in power will not let themselves be gathered. Those who think that God cannot possibly be a mother hen will not go to her shelter. Those who believe they cannot be at peace with the other chicks will not join them under the divine wings.
Yet still, Christ longs to gather us. All of us. Thanks be to God.