Today we celebrate the nurture loving women in our lives, our mothers and people who mother us – aunties and grandmas, uncles, dads, church moms, teachers – people who mother us on the road of our life-journey, who walk beside us, who care for us when we cannot care for ourselves, those men and women who mother us.
Now, many of you know my mother and know how great she is – she and my dad make a great team. One of the things you may not know about my mother…her own mother passed away when Mom was twelve. My maternal grandmother who struggled with depression and alcoholism killed herself and My 12-year old mother became a primary caregiver to her two siblings and cared for my grandfather. She made her own way and throughout the years she has taught each of her three children and four grandchildren how to care for others, how to create a home and how to grow the roots that ground us and give us the freedom to spread our wings.
For those of us who are away from our mothers, for those whose mothers have passed, for those of us whose mothers didn’t turn out to be the nurturing figures we’d like them to be, for those of us who are mourning the loss of our children, sometimes “Mother’s Day” can be a difficult time. But today, even when some of us are sad to be apart from those we love, today I celebrate the fact that in a church community, people like me; single women, or widows or mothers whose children are far away, have the opportunity to share in the lives of our church children. We can also “mother” and care for and love the children of others. And this applies not only to women, but to surrogate grandpas and “church fathers” – we all have a place in raising the children of our world. (As they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”)
One of the lessons I learned from parents is the importance of hospitality: during my childhood, holidays were spent with family AND “strays” –those who would be alone for Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or Easter; our house was home for foreign exchange students from Sweden, Germany and the UK as well as people in need. When a friend from high school lost their home in a fire, Heather moved in with us for three months and became a part of our family! My mother always has a place for you at her table: visitor, stranger or friend. My parents exemplify the advice of the author of Hebrews, in chapter 13, verse 2:
2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
This, I think, is essential for us as Christians – to provide, to offer and to extend hospitality to all in our words and in our deeds. In our scripture lesson today we see hospitality offered in a unique way. Let’s look at our scripture from the gospel of Luke chapter 24, verses 13-35:
Here we meet two unknown disciples – “Cleopas and the other guy” – walking down a road, away from Jerusalem, away from the tragic events of the crucifixion. They are upset; they are grieving; they are bewildered at what has happened to the prophet they believed to be the Messiah. He was supposed to be the One, their chance at redemption, the saving figure who would make all their lives better… and now he was dead.
While walking along that road, they met a stranger and he asked them what was troubling them…
18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
Of course, he was not just any stranger… this man was Jesus himself – in the guise of a stranger. And he walked with the two disciples, explaining the scriptures and the prophesies about himself, and they walked and walked… until they approached Emmaus – seven miles from Jerusalem, seven miles from the gathering of the other disciples, seven miles from the center of their Faith – and Jesus walked on, as if he were going along the road alone.
But Cleopas and other guy urged him to stay with them.
29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
So, when were their eyes opened? At the time of Communion? Because of Communion? Is this a reminder of the Last Supper?
Scholars have argued for a long time, that Jesus is ONLY revealed in the act of Holy Communion… that in no other circumstances are we able to see and experience Jesus.
But I think Jesus is revealed when they invite him into their community. He was a stranger, they didn’t know him, they met on the road, and instead of wishing him well and sending him on his way… the two unknown disciples invited this stranger into their lives, into their home, into their community, if only for the night.
Hospitality refers to the reception and inclusion of people – strangers and friends – into our homes, into our families and into our lives. In ancient times hospitality was a way to “neutralize the threat to the strangers and to the community…” When strangers showed up in town, one didn’t know if they were going to make trouble or if they themselves would come to harm, so the offer of hospitality was a way to provide protection to the community and to the stranger.
As scholar Andrew Atterbury wrote, “Hospitality in the first century could be a very risky venture, just as taking strangers into one’s home is a dangerous decision in many corners of the world today. Nevertheless, in the books of Luke and Acts we see an appeal for Jesus’ disciples to practice hospitality in their lives and ministries.” (1)
There is a story of a monastery that once was a thriving place of ministry. Once the monks were young and vibrant and many people came to stay, to walk in their beautiful gardens and visit their small but exciting monastery. But those days had passed with time, and the monks were old and tired and the monastery had become run-down, dirty and the gardens overgrown. One day the abbot came to the elderly brothers and announced that he had seen a vision. “Christ will be coming to visit you in this monastery.” He told them and the brothers were amazed. “Jesus himself is going to be among us in our small monastery? How could this be?”
But the abbot was very convincing and so the monks got to work: they cleaned the monastery to make it sparkling for the day Jesus arrived. When the Abbot returned, he was very happy with the appearance of the monastery. “Very good, brothers,“ he told them, “but Jesus has not come yet!” the brothers said… “Well, keep working, perhaps you are not adequately prepared…” so They worked in the garden, but still no one came to visit. When the abbot came to check on their progress, they again complained. “No one has come and we’ve done all this work!”
“Well, maybe Jesus is already here…” the abbot suggested. And they began to look at one another – Is our new brother Jesus? Is our old wise brother Jesus? Am I Jesus? So they started treating one another as if he were Jesus, caring for the needs and concerns of each other, just in case that brother turned out to be Jesus. Slowly, people returned to the monastery, noticing what a warm and loving place it was. Strangers were welcomed by the brothers as if each person may be Jesus walking into their midst.
When the abbot returned, the brothers said, “Father, we don’t know who Jesus is – is it one of the brothers or a stranger that has come into our monastery. Please tell us, that we may worship him.”
“My brothers,” said the Abbot, “Jesus has been here all along. In each of you and in the strangers who have sought refuge in your community You have always been in the presence of Jesus and yet you did not recognize him. Now you will know him each time you greet a stranger, each time you care for an elderly brother, each time you meet a new brother, each time you share a meal… Jesus is among you.”
Hospitality bridges the gaps between people of different races, different cultures, different beliefs. By sitting down to a meal, by inviting someone into our homes, by sharing a cup of coffee or a conversation, we tell others: “we see you are special, special to God and special to us.” In welcoming others, we welcome Christ into our midst and ask for God to reveal something new in our community. As we celebrate the gift of these new people into our church family, let us strive to see the Christ in others and in ourselves, knowing that as we walk on this road God has placed before us, Jesus walks with us.
- “Entertaining Angels” by Andrew Atterbury, found on http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/53378.pdf