Holy Welcome

Psalm 118 (Morning)

Psalm 145 (Evening)

Isaiah 19:19-25

Romans 15:5-13

Luke 19:11-27

Both our readings in Isaiah and Romans today open up the concept of “Holy Welcome.” As Thanksgiving approaches, along with Christmas right behind, I’m reminded of all the drama that can occur in families around the simple act of gathering together to share a meal, particularly when it involves divorces, remarriages, adult children who are now creating new families, same-sex relationships, and what my grandmother used to call “people someone drug in off the street that I don’t know from Adam’s housecat.”

A little background on Isaiah: The Egyptians and the Assyrians historically tended to have an on-again, off-again relationship. At one time, Assyria conquered Egypt and drove out the Egyptians and the Nubians; but over time, various political courtships were arranged over the years between royalty which created alliances, punctuated by quiet and not-so-quiet detachments. (Sounds reminiscent of some families, doesn’t it?)

Our reading in Romans is of some interest, because it puts the responsibility of hospitality on the “chosen” (in this case, the “circumcised”). I’ve thought about that a lot because I’m hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in 17 years, and like the last time I hosted it, the bulk of the guest list is not genetically related. There are always unexpected twists and turns when the house is full of “Gentiles.”

Even when our house is full of family, there can be tremendous tension from the variety of backgrounds and opinions present, and I’ve always been amazed over the years how quickly old emotional scars can be ripped open and old family resentments spill out all over the table. Hosts and hostesses can end up feeling impotent or inferior because the holiday dinner seems to have no resemblance at all to that Norman Rockwell holiday dinner that is burned into our frontal cortex.

Even if the family/guests are more or less “normal,” there are still all the ordinary hazards that come with creating a dinner many times the size of a usual meal at home–burned (or undercooked) turkeys, spilled cranberry sauce, fallen baked goods, over-eager children vomiting on the carpet, nervous pets reacting with urinary or fecal displeasure.

These two readings today remind us that holy welcome is not dependent on the success or failure of any of these things I’ve mentioned. It’s simply the act of opening our doors and offering the Christ in us to the Christ in others. Holy welcome does not always insure instant success, but over time, it’s amazing what may be revealed. I still remember a Thanksgiving I hosted where almost every person in the room felt uncomfortable to go home for one reason or another–and I was on call and kept being called in to the hospital, and felt guilty that I had put on the guests the chore of “watching the food” at various points in time. I felt like an utter failure as a hostess. What kind of a hostess says, “Here, watch the food while I go do a frozen section? I should be back in an hour?” The dinner conversation was laced with tears and resentment and tales of estrangement. I thought, “Wow…this is happy…NOT.”

Imagine my surprise, though, when months later, one of the guests said to me, “I never thanked you for Thanksgiving. That was the best holiday I had in a long time! I didn’t have to deal with the pressure of my crazy relatives, and everyone was interesting, and we all did a good job of cooking by committee, didn’t we?”

The short version is, “You just never know.”

How can you open yourself up to holy welcome this holiday season?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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