22nd September, 2013
The Rt. Rev’d John Bayton, AM
THE HEN – Fifth in a Series of Sermons on the paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer
Jeremiah 8 v 18 – 9 v1.  Psalm 79 v 1-9.  1 Tim 2 v 1-10  Luke 13 v 31 – end.

St Paul’s Canterbury, 22nd September 2013, Pentecost 18


Fifth in a Series of Sermons

on the paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer

The Images used in this Series are taken from

Sir Stanley Spencer’s Paintings of

“Christ in the Wilderness”, held in the
Gallery of Western Australia in Perth.


The Rt. Rev’d John Bayton, AM




Stanley Spencer’s Image:  THE HEN

Jeremiah 8 v 18 – 9 v1.  Psalm 79 v 1-9.  1 Tim 2 v 1-10  Luke 13 v 31 – end.

Lectures, talks and Homilies immediately after Lunch are not contusive to wide-awakedness.    Years ago in theological college, every Thursday we had a Lecture at 200pm on ‘Old Testament Studies in Greek’.   The day about  which I now refer was humid and hot, the kind of day that induces slumber. No air-conditioning.    Fr Peter Bennie engaged us in a lecture about worship of gods.   Monotheism- the worship of one God; Polytheism the worship of many gods; Henotheism the acknowledgement of many gods but worshipping only one.  At one stage some were drowsy some  asleep.

Doug Jones was snoring loudly, so Fr Bennie said, “Mr Jones.  Mr Jones!” Doug suddenly came back into this world from the world of dreams.  “Mr Jones, what is Henotheism”.  “I beg your pardon Father” said Doug. “Mr Jones, What is henotheism”.  “Henotheism?   Poultry worship”!

Today, Saint Luke takes us into Christ’s Lament, his great Intercession.  Yesterday was St. Matthew’s Day and in his Gospel Chapter 23 v 37 Matthew tells us the same story of the mother hen and Jesus lament over the Holy City.   With his chosen disciples Jesus came down from Galilee through Jericho and ‘up’ to Jerusalem.   They come to the Mount of Olives and begin their descent across the Kidron Valley, up to the Golden gate of the Holy city.  They come to rest for a while at a half-way place.   Jesus is weary.  He sits with his head in his hands, then standing up, with tears in his eyes he says, “Jerusalem, O Jerusalem you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing”.      Dominus Flevit   –‘The Lord wept’.   This is one of Jesus’ great prayers of Intercession.    Oh how I wish all Intercessions were so brief !

Over the place where Jesus wept is an eight sided  Chapel designed by Italian Architect Antonio Barluzzi, paid for by the Italian Fascist Dictator  Mussolini for the Vatican’s support of his invasion of Abyssinia.   Seven of the sides are dedicated to the seven Virtues.  Inside this chapel is a mosaic depiction of  a  Rooster and in the grounds outside  is always a live mother hen.   Spencer shows Jesus encompassing the hen and her chicks while the hen encompasses and protects her chicks.

In Stanley Spencer’s image Jesus appears in feminine form.  Compassion is a feminine characteristic.

Look carefully at the Stanley Spencer’s  Image of “the Hen” on today’s Pew sheet.    Jesus leans over a little hen with her chickens.  What is not so obvious is the Rooster immediately above his head.     This is an image of ‘protection’, taken by Spencer from Psalm 17 verse 8 – “Hide me under the shadow of your wings…” And again Psalm 57.   He painted this Image in 1954 and it suggests the domestic setting of his own Village Cookham.

Did Jesus know the Greek Myths ?  In the city of Sepphoris where he most certainly worked as a stonemason, [ not  ‘carpenter’] there are two great theatres one with seating capacity of 3000 .  Is it possible that Jesus used to walk the six km across the Valley from Nazareth to see the great theatrical Plays  – Sophocles,  for example – the Theban Plays,  Hesiod, Homer,  plays about the Trojan wars which occurred at the same time as Moses.  On one occasion  he uses the word ‘upocrito’ a Greek word meaning ‘Actor’.  And again, as I mentioned last week, in what language did Jesus  dialog with Pontius Pilate ? Certainly not in  Latin; most probably in Greek.  And again Philip bring to him some Greeks who have heard the word of God!

What then of the Rooster, the Cock ?  This is an allusion to the cock that crowed when St Peter denied Jesus three times.    In ancient Greek mythology the cock crowed twice in the early morning to lead the souls of those who had died during the night from this world across the river Styx with  Charon the Ferryman with his two pennies; Cerberus the three-headed dog;  into Hades.

Here in this Gospel of Luke (also in Matthew) Jesus assumes the role of  the feminine.  We are made in the image of God – both male and female – masculine and feminine. All of us, men and women are both.,  We have both masculine – authoritarian and feminine – compassionate attributes.

What is your image of God ?  The desire to protect is  universally feminine.  Mother gathers the family together.  At least this is my experience.  Every Sunday when we were children my mother, my late brother and my sister and I would gather at my grandmother’s home for Sunday lunch.   She was the Matriarch, conscious of her background and her every-day responsibility to care for her children.   Like women  of every country, nation and tribe nation for millennia she was responsible for maintaining the fireplace – the ‘hearth’, the ‘focus’ of the home.   She never would allow grandfather to gather wood, set the fire or light it.  This was a ‘woman’s’ holy task.   As we read in the Old Testament to this day.    In my opinion Intercession, such as Jesus prayed it, is the work of the feminine in both men and women.

In 19th century stained glass windows the Virtues replaced the Saints and were always women.   Iconography became allegorical.  We have many stained glass windows in the churches of this diocese where the Holy men and Women are displaced and replaced by images of “Faith”, ‘Hope” Charity”, Temperance, “Fortitude”, Prudence and “Justice” .

Today we consider Jesus Great Intercessory prayer  – “O,  Jerusalem, Jerusalem….”

Marina Warner [“Monuments and Maidens”  p 83  pub Weidenfeld and Nicholson London 1985} reminds us (inter alia) “In Mediaeval  hortatory literature and imagery, the female  form came to be used as an unquestioned metaphor for transcendence…”

When we consider the women saints – eg Hildegarde of Bingen , St Teresa of Avila, Clare of Assisi, St Margaret, Elizabeth of Hungary,  Hilda of Whitby, Catherine of Alexandra, Catherine of Siena.  Lucy, Anne mother of the Virgin Mary, and  here in Melbourne Frances Perry founder of the Royal Womens’ Hospital.   And Mother Esther, founder of CHN Cheltenham.   Mary Sumner founder of MU.      All were women  of Intercessory Prayer.

Male saints are invariably people of Theology, Scholarship, Giants of Scriptural Studies, Makers of Good works, Martyrs, confessors, spiritual writers and dogmatists.

I have never read anywhere that ‘Intercession is the task of the ‘Feminine’, but my own studies convince me of this possibility.

Intercession is Christ’s feminine task – as we  may see in the Hen of Stanley Spencer’s beautiful painting today.

As we consider the role of women in the Bible (as we have been at 800 o’clock with Miriam,  Rahab the Harlot, Ruth, Jael and today – Judith and next week Esther, ; I am convinced that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God, so-called ‘powerless women’ out-do, up-stage and  ‘outclass’  “powerful men’ .   Why is this ? Because the ‘feminine’ in history is more attuned to the Will of God than the ‘masculine’.

Men are  immersed in the passive absorption  of information ; for men, reading is an existential act.  To ‘read’ is an event.   For the feminine reading is  transformative.

Do you ever watch Jennifer Byrne’s “Tuesday book club” ?  See what I mean.

For this reason Jesus told his disciples that the ‘news’ of the Kingdom of God is not for those who have ears, but for those who have ears to hear; from  ‘thinking’ to ‘knowledge’.   The masculine absorbs knowledge; the feminine transforms it (as St Paul reminds us) and makes it ‘formation’.

In the beginning, for this reason, the first man was called ‘Adam’. He is formed of ‘adama’ = dust.  Adamah is ‘earth’, ‘ground’.  He is formed into a fantasy-aroused existence’.  He looks around at all the animals, but can find none as a mate.  Made in the Divine Image he teaches God something new.  However, ‘made in the Image of the Divine’,  Man has no  fixed image. He cannot find a ‘mate’; so God in his infinite wisdom takes from his rib a form of himself and creates ‘woman’.  Man – Adam co-operates with God in the evolution of ‘woman’. This new creature is to be the one who is to have compassion.

We long for a beautiful world, a world of goodness, of beauty, of kindness, of love yet we live in a masculine world, a world of ugliness, wars, destruction and injustice.   In this masculine world Jesus would take us under his wings and protect us from the evil of the rooster, the cock who lurks in the background of Stanley Spencer’s painting of today’s Gospel.

Jesus tells us that His Kingdom, that is, the entire Cosmos, is transformed by the beauty of Feminine Compassion.   We are made in God’s Imagination ! This is no a childish fancy, but a reality because we are called into an interior lifestyle; a life ‘within’.   Jesus said  – “the Kingdom of God is within you”.

How may we imagine the ‘Kingdom of God?”   Of the ‘God of War’, the ‘God of Hosts’ of the Old Testament ?    No way !   The teaching of Jesus is always  –  ‘love’, forgiveness’ compassion, justice’, peace – feminine attributes of humanity.  The God of the Old Testament  was created  by Men.  Their “Promised Land”- Israel-  is always defensive against the powers of other nation!  Thank the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ , that masculine, patriarchal God  no longer exists.

Jesus is the Divine force that exists beyond us, a powerful manifestation of compassion, love, forgiveness and peace.  Jesus nourishes us by His Sacraments,  guides us by his Scriptures and sustains us by his Spirit  still intercedes for us.   His  Intercession is our Life and our End.  The One who takes us under his wing and defends us is our Lord  who, even though we live in it, defends us from the cruelty of the world.  Amen.