This post was originally delivered as a sermon at Safe Harbor Family Church (United Church of Christ) on March 13, 2022 in Clinton, Mississippi. The sermon text was Luke 13:31-35.
Can you think of a time when you felt totally and completely safe, protected, and comforted? Thinking back on your lifetime, when have you felt most safe, as though you were wrapped in a warm blanket and hidden from all the storms of life?
Hopefully we all felt this way as babies, when we were literally wrapped up in blankets and soothed by our caregivers, rocked to sleep, or comforted until we began to babble and coo. As we grew older, there were surely other times when we felt a similar sense of comfort and safety. Perhaps you have felt this in the safety of your own room or your own home, or perhaps in the presence of a loved one who knows just how to let you know they are with you, that they see you, hear you, understand you.
That kind of comfort is exactly what Barbara Esrig needed, when she got into a car accident that nearly killed her, breaking 164 bones in her body. Barbara explains:
“A car was trying to pass four or five other cars. And…[the cars being passed wouldn’t let the passing car] back in the lane.” Barbara was in her own lane driving in the opposite direction, and the passing car was now driving straight toward her. “And suddenly,” she said, “things just slowed way down, and there was this huge white explosion. And, […] then there was silence.
“I had five cranial nerve paralyses,” she said, “And I broke a hundred and sixty-four bones. Everything was broken except for my neck, my spine and my pelvis and my hips. So, all the important ones I didn’t break, but everything else was kinda toast.
The staff and the doctors,” she says, “nobody really thought I was going to make it. But I knew that I would. And, […] this one doctor came in. He was a student, and he was pretty freaked out. I had a patch on my eye; I was on a respirator. I had every tube you could imagine, could barely see my face. But I was definitely alive inside; I knew exactly where I was.
He came in with my chart, and he had his head in the chart. And he goes, ’We don’t know if you’re ever going to talk again. And we don’t know if you’re ever going to smell again. We don’t know if you’re ever going to taste again.’
And I have these chopsticks; I have a board – I have an alphabet board. And I’m spelling by pointing with these chopsticks. And [so] I write on this board, I said, ’Life is not worth living is you can’t eat cannolis.’ And he looks at me, he sees my one little eye twinkling. And then I write down, and I say, ’Now, put down the chart and give me a hug.’ And he did.
Later on he told me, he said, ’You know, you reminded of why I wanted to be a doctor.’ And from then on, I called him Dr. Cannoli. He became this wonderful doctor, and we became friends. And it was really for me to have people show me that I was something other than a car accident, that I was something other than a diagnosis, that I was a whole human being.”
What Barbara taught the doctor that day was that when people are broken and battered and going through a tough situation, they need to be treated as people, as whole human beings. They need to be seen and heard, and they need to be comforted in the midst of their situation.
As we now find ourselves in the season of Lent, we begin to remember the difficult days of Jesus’ life leading up to his death. As we do, we will remind ourselves that God is with him throughout his trials and tribulations, just as God is with us when we find ourselves broken and despairing.
But just like Barbara, the startling thing about Jesus during this time is that even though his very own life is in danger, he is the one who is still doing the teaching. He is still instructing his disciples, speaking to his followers, teaching them how to fulfill their callings, even when he is facing imminent death.
He tells the Pharisees to go tell Herod that even though his life is in danger, he’ll be out here healing people’s minds and bodies, at least for the next few days. He says that “As a mother bird collects her babies under her wings, I have often wanted to gather you together.” Jesus here recalls an image of safety and comfort, the image of a mother hen who keeps her chicks under her wings, protecting them from predators and the elements.
As the war in Ukraine rages on, we can only imagine what it must be like for Ukrainians who are hunkered down, hearing the explosions around them, wondering whether their train station will be next. We can only imagine what they must be feeling as they wait in long lines for groceries or to get cash from a cash machine. Surely, they are now longing for the days when they felt a sense of comfort in their daily routines, when they could stay in the warmth of their homes instead of sleeping in bomb shelters, when they could walk outside without fear of the shelling they hear continuously. Safety and comfort are two basic human needs that Ukrainians are now living without, and as we watch from the sidelines, we find ourselves feeling powerless and afraid for them, and for our world.
Jesus speaks into this situation, and even to us today, saying that “As a mother bird collects her babies under her wings, I want to gather you together.” Jesus wants to give us comfort, acting as our mother, a fierce protector of our safety.
As Jesus reveals God to us, we know that in our difficult days, when we find ourselves being shelled without ceasing; when we find ourselves, either literally or metaphorically hunkered down in a bunker, waiting for the fighting to pass; when our bones seem to all be broken and we can only see through one eye and communicate using chopsticks and an alphabet board; we know that God is like a mother hen, who wants to gather us up under her wings. We remind ourselves during difficult days that the divine presence is with us through it all.
This week, as the war in Ukraine enters its second month, we remember Barbara and Jesus’ examples. As they looked death in the face, they continued to teach those around them, to heal those around them, and to open their arms – asking for a warm embrace, inviting others to gather under their wings. May we follow in their footsteps. For it is here that we receive comfort and safety: in the loving arms of one another.