In the vast repertoire of Christian music, the song “On Eagle’s Wings” is perhaps most well known. For some thirty years, the song has been a standard selection in Christian worship—most especially in funeral liturgies. (If you’ve attended enough funerals, you know the words). No doubt, the song has gained enormous appeal in the Christian imagination. Borrowing images from the psalms and the book of Isaiah, the song’s lyrics deliver a message of hope and comfort, protection and deliverance. The lyrics to the song speak of the God whose powerful wings deliver us into the heights of heaven and a new life.
To be sure, it’s a pretty comforting image. No wonder the song is so popular. After all, who can object to an eagle-God, a God whose loving care sweeps us off our feet and rescues us from danger? Who would say ‘no’ to the ride of a lifetime, where all we have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight?
Put this way, God’s invitation is an offer we can’t refuse. It’s a no-brainer—like claiming a winning lottery ticket. But if we dig deeper into the song’s eagle metaphor, we realize there’s more to it. And the deeper we dig, the more we come to appreciate the mystery of God, and meaning of the Lenten season.
Those who study these majestic birds tell us that their journey from young to old is actually a bumpy ride. Young eaglets begin in the safety of their mother’s nest. For a time, their lives are narrowly confined. In the nest, they are protected up high from the dangers below. Food and shelter are all provided for them. They live in their own kind of Eden. If they could, eaglets would probably make their nest a retirement home.
But their mother knows better. In time, she starts urging her young out of the nest. She begins by plucking off the soft bedding of the nest and exposing them to the thorns and thistles underneath. If her young fail to take the hint, she starts removing the twigs—one by one—leaving larger and larger gaps in the nest. Eventually, the floor literally drops out from underneath, and the eaglet finds itself plunging toward earth. As they fall, we might think the mother would swoop down and bring her young to safety. Well, she swoops down all right, but only to carry the eaglet even higher, and allowing it to fall again to the earth. The process of falling and being lifted up is repeated. Eventually, her young are able to spread their own wings and soar on their own.
As he grew from youth into adulthood, Jesus could have remained in the safety of his home. Nazareth, after all, is a pretty far cry from Jerusalem. He could have lain low in relative security, free from the cares of the world below. But that’s not what we find. God allows Jesus to fall towards the desert. He allows Jesus to face the temptations and dangers below. Three times Jesus faces the devil. Three times he is lifted up by his heavenly Father--- until he finds his own wings. Now at last, Jesus has grown up. Finally, he is able to leave his nest. Finally, he flies under his own power. God risks His Son to a broken world below, and in doing so, the Son discovers his true self.
Doesn’t the same hold true for us? The Lenten season is the time in which God nudges us further out of our nest, our comfort zone. Sure enough, we often profess our love of God. We tell God of our desire to follow Jesus. But we still find ourselves resisting God’s nudges. If God has a preferential option for the poor, we have a preferential option for the the status quo. We’d rather cling to our own nests than the risk of falling and discovering a greater closeness to the love of God. We’d rather put a damper on the power of God’s spirit than find out how powerfully that spirit can work in our lives.
(the preacher at this point might cite specific examples of how God may be moving (or has already moved) the assembly to step out and could take some risks for the sake of the gospel)
Jesus never forgot that first fall into the desert. In the course of his life, he allowed himself to fall over and over again. In his proclamation of the word. In his ministry of healing and reconciliation. In his being rejected by his own. In word and in work, Christ showed a willingness to fall so that God’s faithfulness might be revealed. On Good Friday, Christ’s fall reaches its depths on Calvary—only to carry us into the heights of Easter.
God does raise us up on eagles’ wings. But in the meantime, we’ve got our part to play. Humans prefer their nests, but the Kingdom of God is on earth.
© Rev. Tom Mannebach