Clergy Letter for April 2016 by Rev’d Derek Hinge
Sometimes some event, word, conversation, triggers an idea in our minds which subsequent events seem to reinforce. It is as if someone is trying to tell us something or encourage us to follow a particular train of thought, or maybe to take some action that had not previously occurred to us. Something like this has happened to me over the last few weeks and it concerns the word ‘hospitality’. I wonder what you think of immediately on reading that word! Probably it says something to you about being with people, sharing a meal, feeling welcome. That would certainly be true to the origin of the word because it is derived from the Latin word hospes which means host or guest. It is the root of our words ‘hospital’ and ‘hospice’ – places which host guests who are sick.
But as I thought about this word with the Bible open, all sorts of illusions to hospitality seemed to jump out at me. I began to realise that this word is deeply embedded in the Christian story. Take for example the story of Joseph and his brothers, which we were reading at Morning Prayer in the weeks before Easter. Having pretended that their brother was dead, they sell him to some travellers, who subsequently pass him on into Egyptian ownership. Joseph rises to power in Egypt, and when a famine strikes, the impoverished brothers travel to Egypt to get help. Joseph recognises them but they do not recognise him. As the story unfolds, the brothers respond to Joseph’s instructions and return to bring their father to Joseph, whereupon Joseph reveals himself. It is an extraordinary story of hospitality, not only in the provision of his family’s needs but, more deeply, in his forgiveness.
Or take the incident in Abraham’s story (Genesis 18), when three men appear to Abraham. He recognises them as God’s personal presence, and immediately he gets his household moving in giving provision to these three men. In this encounter, they announce that Abraham’s wife is to have a son, greeted at first with a laugh by Sarai who feels she is too old to bear children. As the three men leave, Abraham knows more deeply the promises that God has given him in the Covenant relationship that would lead to Jesus. This incident was painted by the great Russian iconographer, Rublev, and is entitled ‘The Hospitality of Abraham’. As people prayerfully concentrate on this icon, they find that they are drawn into it. The three persons of God, Father, Son and Spirit, invite us to complete the circle, to share Abraham’s hospitality, to be involved in his great story.
Think of Jesus and the numerous occasions when he was given hospitality, sometimes by people that he would not be expected to mix with. On every occasion, something more important than the gathering together for a meal is happening. People get to know him more deeply, things happen that encourage good relationships, a healing takes place, stories are told that open people’s minds and hearts to what God’s kingdom is all about.
Every week in our Eucharist, the risen Lord invites us to share his hospitality as we echo that scene in the upper room, which we thought about a week or so ago, and receive from him the blessing of his sacrifice made once for all that we might live. As we are sent out at the end of the service, we reflect that the only response to such amazing hospitality is to be hospitable people ourselves. This means not just inviting our friends, or people we like, for a meal now and again. It is about becoming much more deeply aware of the needs of others, more open to opportunities to express God’s loving welcome, more sensitive to the difference between what people say about themselves and what they are really feeling.
So hospitality has been a theme running through my life over these last few weeks and it has shown itself in many ways. It has been humbling to share in the hospitality of the Night Shelter for those who currently have no home. It has been rewarding to give hospitality to a small group doing the Alpha Course in our home. In our visit to our link parish in Italy in January, we shared so much with our friends there but all of it was made possible by their generous hospitality. The Cursillo movement has at its heart an amazing hospitality which embraces not only those who come to a weekend, but a wide circle of Christian folk in different parts of the world who support us with their prayers. During this year Pauline and I are making time to be hospitable to friends, whom we do not see very much, by staying in different parts of the country near where they live.
Hospitality in our church is expressed in many different ways, but it must always be much more than just a welcome, important though that beginning is. Hospitality means putting ourselves out to befriend people, to listen to them, to encourage participation, maybe to pray with them, and, above all, to invite them into a deeper relationship with God. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it”. (Hebrews 13:2) Seen any angels lately? How hospitable are you?
Rev’d Derek Hinge