A family of 4 just departed our home in Budapest. They were packing two toddlers and the skeleton necessities of a young family. These items include a pack-and-play, diapers and wipes, and pacifier. Reality begins at 6 AM. Life starts at 8 PM when they finally go to sleep, or at least the energy is contained to 6′ x 3′ mattress and a door that closes.
My ability to give hospitality to the ebb and flow of their lives was moderated by the angsty needs of my own teenage femme-fatale household and the limitations of my time. To be perfectly honest, I left everyone to their own devices after pointing out the location of the refrigerator and spoons. ‘Anything you find is yours to eat.’ I call it ‘the hospitality of the open door,’ which can be translated into ‘seek and you shall find.’
I used to dream of being a hostess with matching glasses that sparkle and shine on the carefully laid table. Some dreams were meant to shrivel up in a corner and die. In its place, I am learning about the radical nature of hospitality from unexpected sources.
I took my left boot off inside the first flap of the UNHCR tent, and placed my socked-foot gently down so that I could remove the second boot. Cold water and mud immediately seeped through my sock. Intense. Cold. Unwelcome. Not only was I now uncomfortable, but I was worried about tracking mud and water into the clean tent. At the same time, the Syrian family let out a gasp as they realized my mistake. This left them feeling the discomfort as the hosts who now had a wet guest.
We spent more than an hour in that tent with our Damascus family sipping thick coffee and blowing bubbles of entertainment with the clapping children. We laughed and we listened to their stories, their fears, their determination to stay free and to stay together, come what may. And in the process, we were both wrapped within the warmth of their presence and unsettled by the uncertainty of their future.
In those moments, they became more than a category: Muslim, refugee, Syrian. They became friends with shared life experience, shared pain, shared laughter, shared hope. Their life, their future is somehow now intertwined with ours.
Reaching back to the Gospel of John, he gives us an eye-witness account of Jesus as the host at table. So often, we pass by this moment on the way to the cross and the resurrection. It can seem rather unimportant next to a crucifixion and an empty tomb, but that last supper and the Christ who served it are crucial to understanding exactly what we receive on Easter.
You see, I struggle with pride. In fact, I struggle with fear. In fact, I am quite content with a life that is pleasant and stable, interjected with moments of controlled adventure that give me the sensation of depth devoid of real challenge. While I may like to get a gift, I have no desire to receive out of genuine need. I fear to live a life that dares death to blink first. I adamantly refuse to live a life that gives preference to your need over my desire.
But life – true life comes only when we step into the tent of radical hospitality.
The Easter story that begins with my rejection of Christ and leads to his death for my life, and blossoms into his resurrection for my eternity – this story I receive as a gift of what Christ does for me. He is God after all and somebody had to clean up that Adam and Eve mess. But radical hospitality is the moment when Jesus stares across the table at his imminent death and washes the feet of his traitor anyway … the moment that Jesus invites me to be humbled by the truest reality of my sin-sickness … the moment when Jesus says that I must live as servant instead of host … the moment when I relinquish control and simply lie back into the arms of Jesus. To that invitation, I tend to say, ‘No thank you. This is a table I prefer to avoid.’
Yet, this table is the only way to the celebration. For those recognizing Western Easter this weekend, we come to an empty tomb in the midst of a world laden with chaos, fear, war, and uncertainty. Our ears are bulging with voices, media, stories, conversations, posts that entreat us to take charge, take control, lock the doors, build a wall, trust a powerful leader. Live this way and you die fighting. Doubt that truth? One word .. Judas.
Our world of bombs, and terror, and the exhaustion of toddlers at 1 AM, the baggage that we drag across the seasons of our lives, our inner prejudices and fears and the deep sins that suck the pulse from our souls – all of it, all of it, in exchange for a Table with our dusty toes peeking out in hope.
Receive the radical hospitality of God’s love in action – a love that both humbles as we admit our need and empowers us to serve others from our source – the resurrected Christ.
Take and eat. Do this in remembrance of me.