‘’He (Abraham) looked up and saw three men standing near him….He said .. Let me bring a little bread that you may refresh yourselves … Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them and he stood by them under the tree while they ate’’.
(Genesis 18: 2, 5, 8)
Hospitality and shared meals appear frequently in the Bible, from Abraham’ encounter with the three divine visitors described in Genesis through to Jesus’s post - resurrection invitation to his disciples to a breakfast of bread and fish on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (John chapter 21). In Hebrews we are encouraged to ‘’let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’’ (13: 1 - 2). In this verse hospitality is linked with our love for one another. The ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us is in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
This togetherness, whether it is accompanied by a simple cup of tea or coffee, a shared meal, or the Lord’s Supper, is an integral part of our fellowship which we have missed during lockdown. Those of us who have followed Services online have been invited to take part spiritually in the Eucharist but there is nothing like the real thing. As lockdown gradually releases, It might be well to reflect on how we value what we have missed and what we can learn for the future. Hospitality is just one aspect of Christian living, but an important one.
There is a strong tradition of hospitality in the history of Christianity. One of the early saints who was renowned for her hospitality was Brigid (c. 450 - 523 AD). Born in County Louth, she is said to have been baptised by St Patrick. From an early age she had a great compassion for the poor and was in the habit of giving her father’s possessions to the poverty stricken and needy! Her father became so frustrated that he decided to sell her to the king and bundling her into his chariot, set off for the castle. He left her at the castle gate while he consulted the king. While waiting, Brigid was approached by a beggar asking for alms; she gave him her father’s sword! Amazed by this, the king said that he could not buy her because she was too good for him and he would never be able to win her obedience.
Brigid founded a monastery in Kildare which became famous for its generous hospitality and was known as ‘’ the city of the poor’’. There were many stories about Brigid’s hospitality. Her cows were often milked three times a day to supply refreshments for unexpected guests. She sang and prayed in the kitchen as she made the butter and bread which she kept in liberal supply for her guests. The following prayer, an inspiration to all whose talents are exercised at home, has been attributed to her:
‘’I would prepare a feast and be host to the great High King, with all the company of heaven. The sustenance of pure love be in my house, the roots of repentance in my house. Baskets of love be mine to give, with cups of mercy for all the company. Sweet Jesus, be there with us, with all the company of heaven. May cheerfulness abound in the feast, the feast of the great High King, my host for all eternity’’.
I love the idea of giving ‘’baskets of love’’ and ‘’cups of mercy’’. For Brigid, hospitality was an expression of the love and presence of Jesus, inextricably entwined with both. As we emerge from lockdown, my prayer is that as we return to ‘’the new normal’’, we will not easily forget how it felt to be isolated and will bring to our fellowship a fresh awareness of and thankfulness for the presence of Jesus among us; that like Brigid we might through our hospitality and welcome bring the love of Jesus to the growing and diverse community around us.