Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020
St. John’s Vicar
I didn’t grow up on a farm. I can count probably on one hand the number of live chickens I’ve encountered in my life. One recollection about chickens comes from an industrial egg-laying farm where monthly my father would take me when I was a child to buy eggs by the crate. The acrid smell, I confess, lingers in my nostrils to this day.
So what, you may wonder, is a chicken doing illustrating this love letter to you?
Despite any negative associations I have towards chickens, this picture offers me great comfort. Today, it is easy for me to project myself into the nature of a little chick who seeks safety and warmth, comfort and reassurance under the protective wings of a mother hen.
Mind you, the need to sit at a desk all day, talking to people only through electronic instruments, sequestering myself, thinking about COVID-related constraints on Community and worship, praying for sanity when plans are being made to reopen our society, and how to fit some exercise in a 14-hour day packed with meetings hasn’t worn on me at all! I crave the warm feelings of being comforted by someone who will protect me, shield me and reassure me that She has got this. The suspicion is that mother hens have the ability to feel their chicks’ pain. To bury my head under her wings and to find shelter from all this would be of such great solace.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem. […] How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Matthew 23:3
These words are recorded coming straight from Jesus’ mouth as he prepares to leave this plane and to rise in glory. He is concerned about the welfare of those he is leaving behind and wants to offer us comfort. He offers us the care and protection of a mother hen who protects her chicks. We are offered that space and can claim it whenever and as often we need it.
Many decades later, when the Gospel of John is written, we hear the church being offered very personal comfort. “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. […] I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” John 14: 16, 18, 19
We are offered much more than the downy comfort of a mother hen’s wing. We are reminded that the Spirit of God, a living being, is with us – has been with us – to protect, comfort and guide us. This gift is not to be over-spiritualized (sorry for the pun). The Spirit is what moves within all of us and that unites us in loving, caring for and protecting one another in times of risk, danger and in the face of the unknown. Present with us from the beginning of time, Jesus gives us a new perspective on what stirs inside us: when we are threatened or anxious, we are able to call up the Spirit of God within us and to find strength and comfort there. Then, as Jesus did before us, we turn that comfort and strength outwards to those who haven’t found within themselves the peace that is available. The lively and active Spirit that is charged within us meets the Spirit that still rests in timidity and fear.
With audacious reassurance, Paul tells us that we did not receive a Spirit (my capitalization) of slavery to fall back into fear, but a spirit of adoption identifying us as God’s own.
It is essentially important that we allow ourselves this space for anxiety and fear and discomfort. THAT we feel these things is both healthy and natural. It reminds us that ‘we ARE out of control.’ Feel these reactions deeply. Inevitably they lead us to seek a power greater than ourselves that offers strength and serenity.
We find strength most especially in connecting with one another. We hear it when we receive a phone call from other members of the community saying, “I love you. I’ve missed you. How are you doing?” We feel it when we pray together for Morning or Evening Prayer. We give that Spirit when we wear a mask to let others know that we are thinking of them! We sustain that Spirit as we wait –sometimes impatiently – for the opportunity to go outside once again unfettered by masks and social distancing or fear.
St. John’s gathers for Morning Prayer each Sunday via Zoom at 9 a.m. The sense of strength and love and service there is profound! During the week as well, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we pray Morning Prayer at 9 a.m. Nighttime Prayer is prayed on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Due to online security concerns, we don’t publish the Zoom link; if you did not receive my email to the church with the links, and would like to attend services, please email me and I’ll forward them to you: email@example.com
Seek strength. Seek the Spirit. Seek out the nest of comfort lined with the fluffy down of God’s eternally open arms, where fear and anxiety are vanquished and where we nestle into feelings of security and wisdom and safety.
Peace be with you. I give you my heart.