Sitting around the kitchen table at my parents’ place in Ottawa, my mother finishes bringing all the food to the table – chicken schnitzel, scalloped potatoes, buttered string green beans. We give our thanks to God, and start loading up our plates with this warm, steaming, savoury food.
And no sooner is my mouth full, and I’m chewing away at this great food, than my mother begins to say what she’s said from as early as I can remember as a young boy… and with an earnestness and force to reckon with:
“Eat! Eat more! Take more! Eat!”
“No mom. Let me first finish what’s on my plate, and then I’ll consider.”
“No, eat! Eat more! Take another schnitzel! Ach, just another schnitzel.”
And despite my fierce protestations, she’s already piling more schnitzel on my plate.
Of course, we know that behind this enthusiastic offering of food, is not only a robust hospitality born from a Polish-German cultural heritage, but also, and more importantly, a mother’s deep love for her children, that innate motherly desire to provide for and nourish her young, a parent’s expression of embracing, nurturing and supporting her children.
My mom’s “Eat! Eat more!” is her wonderful way of loving me.
I’ve read this passage from the Gospel of Luke many times over the years, and whenever I do, I almost always think of my mom. Specifically, when Jesus says: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”
This image of a mother hen, gathering her little chicks under the safety, warmth and security of her wings brings to mind my mother hovering over the dinner table, and “under her wings” are her children and grand-children.
I think it’s really important for us to realize that Jesus uses this potent, intimate image of a parent’s love for a child, to describe the kind of love he has for others, revealing of course a key impulse that God has toward all of humankind – that of love.
As Jesus shows us, God is a deeply personal, and compassionate Being, who knows our personal stories and history through and through, who knows exactly what we’re feeling and going through, who is closer to us than our very breath, and who wishes nothing more than to gather us in the warmth and safety of God’s loving embrace! Just like a mother hen gathering her brood under her wings.
But here’s the learning piece for me, and I’m sure for many of us.
Notice that Jesus shares this wonderful image of God’s love right smack dab in the middle of a very difficult conversation he’s having with the Pharisees, who’ve actually come to warn Jesus that his life is in danger. King Herod is out to get rid of Jesus.
Why would that be? How could Jesus’ ministry of compassionate love warrant being put on King Herod’s hit list?
The truth is, there’s something far more tough and edgy and challenging about God’s love than we’d first think.
Its all-inclusive nature means many are included in God’s embrace. We may find ourselves surprised, even bothered by who else is rubbing shoulders with us under God’s wings.
It’s quite something to realize that the same God who loves each one of us, personally, deeply and fully, also loves the other person – a person who may be very different from us, with whom we may disagree, whose life experience and situation may be so different from us, with whom we may have difficulty and who causes us hurt.
God’s all-inclusive embrace can indeed provoke and upset.
That Jesus showed attention to and healed the outcast, the “foreigner”, the stranger, the ill, the despised, those whom the rest of society were just all too happy to ignore and forget about, this caused some degree of upset, as it went against the grain of a very stratified society divided between those who were “in” and those who were “out”, those who were “better” and more “deserving” and those who were not, those who were “closer to God” and “more holy”, and those who were not.
And the likes of King Herod thought best to do away with this upend-er of the status quo, this “rabble-rouser” Jesus.
At the centre of Christian worship, from the earliest church days, is a meal – the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, or Holy Communion as we know it.
There Jesus was, at the head of the table at the Passover Meal, the last supper he shared with his disciples before being arrested and killed.
There Jesus is, like a mother hen, drawing in his brood of disciples, including “under his wing” the likes even of people like Judas, who ultimately betrayed Jesus.
This meal, this Holy Communion, is to remind us of what God’s love actually looks like in the world – bread to be his body and wine as his life-blood – poured out for all, friends and enemies, alike.
Throughout the past two thousand years of church history, this meal has been counter-cultural, challenging the status quo, bringing Jews and Gentiles, slaves and slave-owners, citizens and refugees together, at the same table.
This meal, for example, inspired black and white people across the American South to sit down at segregated lunch counters in 1960, insisting that they should be served together because they were equal in the eyes of the Lord. After being spat at, and having cigarettes put out on their heads, they knew that it was no small thing to love as Jesus loved, to include others as Jesus included others.
It’s no small thing for us, as a faith community, to gather around the Lord’s Table, and eat together.
Whether we’re feeling great, or feeling lousy, whether we’re getting along with someone or not, whether our ethnic heritage is Polish, German, Scottish, Asian or Sudanese, whether we earn $30,000 or $600,000 a year, whether we’re healthy, happy, sad or angry, we are all one at the same table of the Lord, embraced under the wings of the one, same God.
“Eat! Eat!” my mother says.
Well, Jesus says something similar: “Take and eat this bread of life. Drink this wine of salvation, and know yourself as loved. Know yourself and others around you at the Lord’s Table, as deeply loved, completely cherished, and totally valued by the one same God.