We’ve just heard, action-packed promises made by God, beginning with the one being made to Abram who is
called the father of nations to whom God is promising the earth as a home for all peoples. When Abram questions God’s pledge he is ordered to do what may sound strange, some would say “weird,” – to select several animals, cut them in two, and lay them down as paired parts, each pair behind the other, and also a pair of birds, one paired with the other. Then, as a deep sleep comes over Abram like a nightmarish darkness, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between the pieces.
What sounds strange and weird to us was a pledge-making ceremony in his time in which a person was saying,
“Just as I tore these animals in two may the same be done to me if I break the promise I am making to you.”
By the light of the flaming torch Abram not only sees the pledge being made but hears the Voice of the One Who is making it. It is the Lord, the Creator, vowing you may do to me what I have done to these animals if I break the pledge of giving you this earth as your home.
That is how determined God is to prove the promise will not be broken. The flaming torch highlights that ancient ceremony for all future generations to see.
And that pledge gets extended beyond time and space centuries later by a man who goes by the double name of Saul/Paul, who though a Hebrew of the Hebrews, through his Jewish mother who was the birth line to carry on the faith, is the son of a father who was a Roman citizen Paul (his Roman name), and therefore, can claim all the rights and protection that went with the seal of Rome.
When that blinding light moment and the voice of Jesus brought a halt to his mission to hunt down the Jewish followers of Jesus and bring them to trial in Jerusalem, the seal of Rome yielded to a greater allegiance to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and citizenship “in heaven,” with the seal being Christ’s cross.
From an earth-home pledge made in an ancient ceremony highlighted by a flaming torch, to a seal in the shape of a cross marking humans as citizens meant to be at home with God beyond all time and space, God’s amazing pledge is broken – not by God, but by humans which adds the image of a hen to the flaming torch and seal.
The Lenten Gospel for today that has us hearing the Voice of God echoes through Jesus’ cry: 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!
A mothering God was an almost forgotten picture drawn in the words of Hosea and Jeremiah and the Psalms,
but a memory of Jesus that is now cast in stone in the teardrop- shaped chapel of Dominus Flevit (Latin for “he wept”) built in 1955 on the western slope of the Mount of Olives.
A mosaic made from tiles that were once in a 5th century Byzantine chapel depicts Jesus’ Gospel words in artwork showing a mother hen with wings outspread to shelter her chicks from harm. The mosaic is in the floor in front of the altar…a silent witness to Christ Who will go from weeping over Jerusalem and a people who are determined to reject God’s pledge to be the sheltering God for all people,...
to the cross – where Jesus’ arms will be outstretched in an all-embracing pledge: “This is what God will do to show how much you mean to the God Who will not break the pledge made with Abram, for all people.”
By the second century Christians carried the image of God being like a mothering her to the legend of the pelican in all her piety. Without binoculars in that day, the sight of a pelican reaching in her red-feathered pouch to bring out stored food to feed her young was mistakenly thought she was piercing herself to feed them with her life blood. In the 1400’s European Christians adopted the legend of a pelican piercing her breast to feed her young with her life-blood to keep them from starving when there was no food.
When Christians began to be persecuted in the 1500’s the “Pelican in her Piety” literally feed them with the pledge that God’s sacrificial love was poured out in Christ, on the cross; his death for our life, the love of God poured into our hearts.
The mothering hen and the pelican in her piety, images for the God Who, at all cost to God, holds to the pledge made with Abram.
The Waldensians of Lyons and Northern Italy, who in the late 1100’s were persecuted for putting the Bible in the language of the people, especially the poor who pledged allegiance to Jesus and not the church in Rome, and later the Protestant Huguenots who in the 1600’s were threatened with extinction by the Church in France, made the pelican their sign. There is an adaption of that image which is seen in the banner than hangs from our balcony -carrying the mothering hen sheltering her chicks and the “Pelican in all her piety” feeding her young with with her sacrificial blood, – to a lily growing from a bed of thorns - implying that the "hen/pelican" - Christ - is the saving source of new life, in the midst of the thorns of persecution.
The pelican for the Waldensians and the Huguenots – not overcome by persecution for they are fed with the pledge of a promise-keeping God.
A torch, a seal, a hen – the Lenten symbols drawn through today’s Scripture wait for us to accept God’s pledge to give us this earth home that extends beyond all time and space and – in our hardest, darkest moments, our God denying moments, know God’s pledge holds: “I love you with an everlasting love.”
Lent gives us time to do what must be done, so that Jesus will not need to shout today as He did on His way to the cross: How often have I desired to gather you…together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
and you were not willing!
His Love demands our soul, our life, our all! AMEN!