Leaning into Death
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Pastor Mark Aune
Luke 13:1-9, 31-35
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
“The United States reached a staggering milestone on Monday, surpassing 500,000 known coronavirus-related deaths in a pandemic that has lasted almost a year. The nation’s total virus toll is higher than in any other country in the world. It has far surpassed early predictions of loss by some federal experts. And it means that more Americans have died from Covid-19 than did on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.”
I have been struggling to wrap my brain around this number all week. I have been trying to absorb the meaning of 500,000 souls who died in the last 12 months due to Covid-19.
I know in my head that this is a big number, yet it feels a little detached from reality.
But in my heart the number feels different because I know that every number represent a person, a family, loved ones who will not be coming home.
I watch for the stories on the news. Every Friday at the end of the PBS News Hour they tell the stories and then the numbers have faces. I see for myself the gifted lives of ordinary people who served, loved, and made the world the amazing place it is.
Real people whose loved one’s wounds are deep from the loss of life and who are left with a grief that is hard to quantify and understand.
This is when the tears bubble to the surface for me. It is not just a number.
How does one lament this kind of loss?
How do we as a country lament what has happened and how it has affected the very fabric of our lives and our world?
I am not sure if I really know how to lament what has happened because of the coronavirus. Like many of you I am just trying my best to make it through each week. I am working hard to stay focused on what needs to be done at home and work and concentrate on the things I can control and then give the rest to God.
But I do know that when we lament, we acknowledge the reality of death in our midst and I think it is difficult for us to see Jesus until we lament.
- To lament is an act of faith.
- It requires us to tell the truth about what has happened.
- It requires honesty about our feelings, and it is a necessary ingredient for us to move forward and heal as individuals and as a nation.
You will notice that Jesus laments for the city of Jerusalem in our reading for today.
What sorrow does Jesus feel at this moment in time?
What is he feeling in his heart as he looks at the city of God, home of the Jerusalem temple?
Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem. He knows that he needs to go there.
Despite the warnings of the Pharisees, who seem to be looking out for Jesus, He does not back down.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.
I think Jesus is already lamenting the loss of his own life because he knows that when he gets to Jerusalem, he will be killed. This is the work he refers to.
I think he is lamenting the fact that God’s people will once more reject a messenger from God.
I think he is lamenting the refusal of the people, people like you and me, to receive Jesus and enter into the full and complete relationship that he offers.
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!
We hear in these words the height, the depth, the breadth of God’s love demonstrated by the work of Jesus.
He laments our unwillingness to repent, to turn back to God and it breaks his heart.
In his lament over the city Jesus is leaning into death. He is leaning into his own death in a way that we cannot fully understand because it is in his death that we are fully and completely loved.
In this profound and powerful image of a mother hen, we see the heart of Christ laid bare for you and me and the entire world.
How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
It may seem to be a weak image for some, but the mother hen spreads her wings tirelessly. She will not stop until every child is accounted for and every child is safely protected and guarded.
The mother hen is so fierce she will sacrifice her life for the sake of her children.
Earlier in this chapter Jesus says that unless we repent, we will perish.
What if we were willing to think of repentance as leaning into death.
Leaning into our own death and the futility of going it alone, without God in our lives.
How would our vision change as we look at our own lives and the world around us if we did that? What kind of ripple effect would there be?
Maybe death would not be so scary. Perhaps we would begin to see what needs to die in each of our lives in order for us to see God more clearly and to understand that God needs and wants us to bear fruit.
And what if we were willing to think of repentance as a deliberate choice on our part to gather under the wings of the mother hen.
For it is under her wings where we will find refuge.
It is under her wings where we will find strength.
Under the shadow of her wings, we will find the freedom to lean into our own death, to repent of all that keeps us from living the life God desires for us, and to live.
To live knowing that God has something new in mind.
That God is pushing us forward.
And finally, to know, in our hearts, when we lean into death, we will always find life.
New life in Christ.
For that promise and hope we say thanks be to God. Amen
 The New York Times February 22, 2021