When we ushered in the lunar new year last Jan. 28, popular media told us it was the year of the rooster, but in the Chinese language, we actually only say that it’s the year of the chicken – 雞年。
The chicken can be a hen or a rooster but I suppose in popular culture, the male still dominates so the rooster gets all the attention even if it’s the hen that lays the eggs. Much of our culinary delights come from chickens and eggs rather than roosters.
Well, in a Christian context one might wonder if chickens are ever mentioned in the Scriptures.
There are in fact two instances when Jesus mentions them. First, in Matthew 23 (37), when Jesus laments over Jerusalem, he says, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks, but you weren’t willing.”
Then a bit later in Matthew 26 (34), Jesus tells Peter that “before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Then Peter went outside and wept bitterly.
These two incidents have to do with the Passion of Jesus that culminated in his death on the cross. He entered into this very painful experience where, after a triumphant entry into Jerusalem, his closest friends would betray him and he would be crucified.
During that most difficult experience, he used the image of the hen and the rooster to show mercy to his friends. He wanted to gather Jerusalem like a hen gathers her chicks, showing love, tenderness and protection.
And then when Peter professes total commitment to him, making it sound like he would do anything for the Lord, Jesus predicted that before the rooster crows as Friday dawns, Peter would deny him three times. Peter was there accompanying Jesus in his final hours, but when confronted by the authorities, he denied that he knew Jesus.
The Friday rooster is a reminder to us of our weakness; a reminder of all the times when we forget about Jesus and do as we please; a reminder of the times when we make bad choices; a reminder of the times when we are proud and arrogant instead of humble and kind.
Jesus knows us intimately. He knows our weakness and he wants us to be aware of it too. The Friday rooster crows to awaken us. But the rooster makes other reminders too. The second reminder is not explicitly recorded in the Bible, but we know that ever since God created roosters, they have taken it upon themselves to remind the world that a new day is dawning.
In fact, before alarm clocks were invented, the rooster was the alarm clock! When the rooster crows, it is time to get out of bed! The rooster starts crowing when it is still dark, literally at the break of dawn, and it is when Mary Magdalene and the other women got up to go to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body.
The Sunday rooster crows and calls them to their task, but when they arrive there, they find an empty tomb and the angel tells them to go and proclaim that Jesus is risen. He is alive!
Jesus has endured suffering and death to redeem us from all those times when we have sinned and denied him. By rising to new life, he offers us the gift of reconciliation.
We know that Peter, after hearing the good news, rushes to the tomb to see for himself that Jesus is no longer there. After denying Jesus three times, Jesus gives him the chance to redeem himself by asking him to declare his love three times as well (John 21).
Peter is then given the mission of taking care of the Church, God’s flock, as the first pope.
For a Christian, the rooster’s crow is a reminder not only of our sins, but also of the new life that dawned on Easter Sunday.
Between the Friday rooster and the Easter Sunday rooster, the choice is obvious.
Because of this idea of the Easter rooster, a pope in the ninth century decreed that all churches should have a rooster displayed on top of their buildings.
This became a popular custom in Europe and over time, the rooster became part of the weather vane design. A weather vane lets one know the direction of the wind – north, south, east or west. People just had to look up to see which direction the rooster was facing to know the direction of the wind.
During this new year, let the Easter rooster be our guide. Let us remember to look upon the Risen Christ and take our direction from him. We may be living in very uncertain times, but God gives Jesus to us as our companion and friend, there to provide direction and meaning.