The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 11)
Easter Hospitality (part one)
[The risen Jesus] went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. With that, their eyes were opened and they recognized him (Luke 24:29-31).
Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead (John 21:12-14).
Peter proceeded to speak and said, ... “We are witnesses of all that he [Jesus] did ... This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:34, 39-41, italics added).
I was fortunate in my seminary professors. I can recall some insight gained, some useful path of reflection laid out, in almost every course I took. But one seminar especially has followed me, or rather guided me, through the whole of my ministry. The course was entitled “Hospitality and Table Fellowship in the Bible”. We read together every text of Scripture in which a hospitality scene played an important role or in which hospitality was employed as a significant image for Christian faith and life. This journey through the Bible took us from Genesis 19 (Abraham's welcoming of the three mysterious strangers) through the apostolic epistles in the New Testament. Once a week our small class gathered in our professor's home where our study took place in the context of a shared meal.
As you might guess, the course gave a great deal of attention to the “Lord's Supper” – the shared meal which, for Christians, is at the center of our life with Jesus. At this meal, the table of fellowship was transformed by the Word of Christ into the holy altar of his self-sacrifice.
We learned to approach this gospel scene in a wide context of Israel's covenant meals, especially the annual Passover Seder and the weekly Sabbath meal. We reflected on how such meals tied together the themes of covenant, sacrifice, mutual hospitality. We re-read the gospels, taking note of how often the ministry of Jesus took place from home to home. Even at birth there was no room in the inn. Only through the hospitality of others did he find rest, food, and lodging. But mysteriously, wherever Jesus was welcomed as guest, he himself became the host. And we cannot forget the miraculous meal (recorded in all four Gospels) when Jesus fed the hungry multitude with but a few loaves and a few fish.
Seeing the “Last Supper” through this Scriptural wide-angle lens, one begins to notice how it is that all the preceding gospel meals anticipate the mystery of that meal which Jesus shared “in the night in which he was betrayed” – how each hospitality scene offers insights into the meaning of the Sacrament.
It is in this context also that we should recall the Easter meals, when the risen Christ comes to break bread with his disciples. We will ponder this mystery in next week's article. For the time being this gives me a chance to thank Professor John Koenig, who welcomed, fed, and taught me.
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