I was away recently on my annual personal retreat. Initially I slept a lot. I slowed down, tried doing one thing at a time. I gazed at beauty. I was more aware of being with God as my best friend. Jesus and I went on walks together . We wrote our initials (JC + LD) on a sandy beach and in snow-covered woods. We sat quietly, enjoying hot chocolate by the fireplace. Then Jesus gently asked a question. I said: “Oh, please, I don’t want to go there. We’ve been having such a nice time. I don’t want to talk about that.” I pushed back and ran.
Jesus didn’t get upset. We went on another walk. We enjoyed another meal together. I came across a poem which grabbed my attention. I went back to it. I’m not usually a fan of poems, but I went back to it again, repeating some lines over and over. With time I realized why it meant so much to me. The poem named and spoke hope to my brokenness, to what I didn’t want to talk about, to why I pushed back and ran. The poem was a divine gift. God kept coming to me, gently, persistent and—for me surprisingly—in a poem. God still desired me, my whole self, including the wounds. God kept coming, creatively enticing with love.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus laments: “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!” There had been a stream of prophets, messengers sent, calling the people to repent and return to God’s ways. But people ignored, opposed and often killed the messengers. I wish that didn’t sound so familiar. God sends lots of messengers, gives countless invitations. We’re adept at pushing back, running away, ignoring, and fighting.
Even as we run, push and fight, God still desires to gather, hold and embrace. As heavenly parent to wayward children, God, full of mercy, keeps coming, calling, wooing, befriending, enticing. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” God still desires us. God keeps coming.
Is this your image of God during Lent—one who is calling, wooing, befriending and creatively enticing? I admit that doesn’t come naturally to me when kneeling on marble or fasting. Many of us have been given an image of God who is a harsh and stern authority with a pointing finger demanding an apology and says: “Why do you keep messing up? Why do you delete my messages?” Our different worship order for Lent which begins with confession and kneeling might trigger that image.
Sometimes I have to really focus to hear and claim the presider’s invitation: “Dear friends in Christ, God is steadfast in love and infinite in mercy, welcoming sinners and inviting them to the Supper of the Lamb. Let us confess our sins confident in God’s forgiveness.” Don’t miss that invitation, that starting point. Remember we are God’s beloved children. Remember God is steadfast in love, infinite in mercy, welcoming and inviting. Remember God is like a hen desiring to gather us together under her wings. Remember God loves us.
Lent begins not with confession. Lent begins with love. Lent is like a retreat. The first and central point is reclaim, renew and refresh our identity as God’s beloved children. Last Sunday’s gospel text and sermon recounted Jesus’ long retreat and his temptations in the desert. Jesus went out into the desert from his baptism, where God said: “You are my son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Retreat, Lenten fasting and discipline, and the different order for Lenten worship is all rooted in friendship with the One who says: “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Out of the experience of being loved, we risk kneeling and confessing sin. In response to love, we give something up or take something on. In response to love, we risk letting God touch wounded places. We might run or fight the risk. Watch what happens. God still desires. God keeps coming.
Sometimes the hardest part is letting ourselves be loved. Letting ourselves be gathered under the shadow of strong, safe wings. As with the hen, God offers a variety of images to grasp and through them grasps us. Try praying with a loving image. Perhaps a hen as she gathers her brood. Imagine God as a hen who gathers us under strong wings into safety. Imagine yourself as a lamb with a divine shepherd who holds you tenderly, calls you by name, leads you to green pastures and still waters. God told Abraham: Look at the stars. Your descendents will be that numerous. Every time you look at the sky, remember me and my promise to you. If chickens or sheep or stars don’t resonate with you, what does? What image evokes God’s love for you?
Spend time meditating with that image. Try letting yourself be loved. Hold that imagine in mind in the silence before worship and as you kneel to confess. If you are giving up something this Lent, remember that loving image as you fast or refrain. As you practice something new, hold that loving image. Letting go and taking on, kneeling and confessing are all response to Love, response to a divine lover who calls, woos, befriends and creatively entices.
Lent begins with love. Soak in it, whether walking on a sandy beach or in the snow, gazing at a fire or the clouds, resting under the wings of hen or climbing on a sturdy rock, being held by a shepherd or embraced by a grandmother. Responding to Love, dare to listen, dare to kneel and confess, dare to try something new. God loves you. God desires you. God will keep coming.
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