Jesus the mother hen – 14 March 2022
Jesus Christ is in the wilderness, a desert place. Here he is watching a hen gather her chicks under her wings. This is a maternal picture. One chick is buried deep in feathers, two others make their way to the safe space under her wings. A fourth chick emerges from under Jesus’ robe. Christ’s body bends around the hen, providing an additional safe space or enclosure. Jesus will later use the example of the mother hen to describe his desire to gather the children of Jerusalem to himself, to provide for them a safe and nurturing space.
Beyond the focus of the painting there is a further hen, and some cock birds. We are reminded that is will be a cock’s crow that signals the beginning of the day of crucifixion, and will serve as the marker for the one(s) who deny knowing Jesus.
This picture comes from a series by Stanley Spencer Christ in the wilderness, c1954. Spencer links imagery used in the teaching of Jesus to the wilderness time at the beginning of his ministry, the pictures offering a form of ‘origin stories’.
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!
What would it take for us to embrace Jesus’s vulnerability as our strength? To trade in our images of a conquering God for the mother hen God of this lectionary passage? Maybe what we need most this Lent is not a fox-like divinity who wields his power with sly intelligence and sharp teeth, but a mother hen who calls to us with longing and desperation, her wings held patiently and bravely open. A mother hen who plants herself in the hot centre of her children’s terror, and offers refuge there. There at ground zero, where the feathers fly and the blood is shed.’
Above the city Jesus wept. “Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Don’t turn away, Jerusalem! Come close to me,
“I am the mother hen,” he cried. “Beneath my wings
you all can hide.
There you’ll find warmth and life and love,
my little chicks, my children.
I’ve longed to gather you to me, Jerusalem! Jerusalem,
Please let me mother you! You’ll die
without my warmth, my children!”
We hear his call but turn away, for we are all
We do not want a mother now. We’ll be
But as the cold world closes in, we think
And what it’s like to walk alone, scared,
No one lives through these dark, cold nights
without the warmth, the love, the life
That Jesus Christ, dear Mother Hen, gives gladly
to his children.
I trust we know enough of sin, to realize the bind we’re in
When even though we say we’re old, we’re acting just
And as we turn to leave the nest, convinced our choice
is for the best,
He hopes to see us come again, next time in New Jerusalem.
No one retains their innocence without the strong,
bright broody wings
That Jesus Christ, dear Mother Hen, folds softly round
Pamela Urfer, Mother Hen, © 2021