Messy Hospitality

 
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WORDS BY JULIA SUMMERS


My husband, Garrison, and I had been homeowners for about two days when we had our first guest at our table. And by table, I mean our coffee table. It was more of a picnic on our living room carpet with Del Taco as our main course.  

 

I had picked up fast food on my way to the house so we could eat a quick meal and continue organizing the chaotic mess that was our home, but the Colorado summer storms had other intentions. 

 

A friend of ours was stranded in a lightning storm after riding his motorcycle to a local coffee shop. Garrison, being the incredibly intentional man he is, proposed that our friend join us for our picnic dinner in the living room.

 

“He could see the new house and we could ask him how his summer is going!” He suggested excitedly.

 

I remember glancing around our kitchen, full of half-unpacked boxes, and giving Garrison a reluctant “Okay,” inwardly cringing at the idea of anyone stepping foot into the current state of this old house. 

 

I loved the idea of hospitality. I loved hosting dinners at our furnished, brand-new apartment the previous year, complete with our shiny wedding gifts on display for our guests to see. I loved setting the table with fresh flowers, an Anthropologie candle burning on the mantle, and a classy Spotify playlist on repeat in the background.

 

But this? This was messy. There were literally piles of newspaper and boxes in every room of our home. Not to mention the fact that the house was built in 1972 and, by the looks of it, the previous owners loved that era. A lot. And not in the adorable way the 1970’s are conveyed on This is Us. 

 

But as we partook of our “Taco Tuesday” bounty that evening, all of my apprehensions were put to rest in the midst of easy conversation. This friend of ours was given a place at the table. A place to freely share his story and take shelter in our home. There was something about sharing a meal, and vulnerably offering up our imperfect space, that shifted our relationship with this man. It was sacred; it had the aroma of the Kingdom.

 

Scripture is filled with instances of people gathering, sharing a meal, celebrating festivals, or simply welcoming others to join them in thanking God. Joining at the table was a practice ingrained in their culture and a focal point of their spiritual lives. We see this most noted in celebration of Passover and the Eucharist, or table of Communion. 

 

What I found most meaningful, was the observation that Jesus broke bread with His disciples and sinners alike to carry out the plan of redemption God had orchestrated. 

 

N. T. Wright tells of this significant aspect of Jesus’ ministry writing, “When he wanted to fully explain what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory. He didn’t even give them a set of scriptural texts. He gave them a meal.”
 

In Matthew 26:26, we see the meal we know as the Last Supper explained,


“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."

 

This practice is one most church-goers are familiar with in the tradition of Communion. The act of reverently “blessing, breaking and giving” of the bread as a symbol for the body of Christ, is foundational to the Church’s identity. If we view ourselves as Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12), then are we not also called to be blessed, broken and given in our everyday lives?

 

As I transitioned my views on hospitality, this question began to form my perception. What if instead of fretting about the details of welcoming community to our table, I viewed gathering as an act of discipleship and mission? One where I could display Jesus’ sacrifice and present a place of honesty and security? What if God created table fellowship as a central means by which the church could multiply?

 

To be a part of a blessed, broken, and given body, I needed to let go of my prideful standards. I needed to be okay with a neighbor stopping by when our house was untidy, or a friend coming over for coffee when our kitchen was in the middle of a renovation. The heart of the meals Jesus shared with his beloved were not to show off his cooking skills, or present a home replicated from a West Elm catalog (not sure if there is an equivalent in the New Testament). He prepared a table for them, He fed them so that they could know Him.

 

My home and table have the same significance, if I allow the Holy Spirit to be the central focus of our meals and gatherings. Blessing our community with a simple meal and place of warmth could be a game changer for the Kingdom. As is sharing in our brokenness — and our wholeness found in Christ — and freely giving out the sustaining truth of the gospel in our own sacred spaces.

 

There are days when I still find myself apologizing to our guests for the unfinished rooms in our home, or the mess my ten-month-old daughter left in our living room. But I’m trying to remind myself that the privilege we have in breaking bread with the people in our lives is not about me or my home at all. It is about He who is called the Bread of Life, the One who invites us to share in the coming feast at His table when all that is broken is made whole.


Sincerely,
Kindred


 
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