What does it mean to be Easter people, a people who have seen Christ embrace us from atop a cross in spite of our sin? It means accepting God’s hospitable invitation to new way of being community for one another.
In a recent Christian Century article, ethicist Christine Pohl states that a best practice for building healthy congregations is to nurture inclusive hospitality. That means we Christians can take risks to welcome others because they may be “angels unawares” and include them in a community of faith in order to encourage social justice and compassion.
Most of us, especially those who have lived in the south for a long time, have become good at hospitality. Our doors are open to neighbors. Our churches have welcome signs for guests in our parking lots.
That’s all wonderful, but the type of hospitality that Pohl advocates and that Easter initiates goes beyond a mere handshake and warm smile. Biblical hospitality not only encourages the welcoming of strangers in our midst, it also means allowing those very strangers to be comfortable enough to cast off their strangeness.
Late feminist scholar Lettie Russell describes this radical hospitality in her book, Just Hospitality. She argues that biblical hospitality is a catalyst for divine interactions that advocates for and includes the marginalized and outcast.
She also states that hospitality includes mutual welcome, which is to have the courage to welcome others who don’t look like us, believe like us, or even act like us. It also means having courage to allow those same people welcome us into their lives and world.
Isn’t mutual welcome what God offers us at Easter: Jesus embraces us “just as we are,” and in return we welcome Christ into our lives as well?
Jesus promoted and modeled mutual welcome not only in his death and resurrection, but in his earthly ministry as well. Jesus was the hospitable divine host for many people, like tax collectors and sinners, or the 5000 people who came to him hungry and thirsty for God’s word.
But Jesus also allowed others to welcome him and serve him. Zacchaeus, a tax collector–and surely a sinner by his day’s standards–was happy to “welcome” Jesus into his home (Luke 19:6). Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus and his disciples into their home; and two disciples welcomed the Risen Lord to eat supper with them while on journey to Emmaus.
Jesus’ mutual welcome also meant putting some scoundrels and sinners in positions of leadership. Peter was Jesus’ right-hand man even though he was going to deny Jesus three times. Judas was Jesus’ treasurer. Women, many of whom were not proper enough for marriage or acceptance in greater society, became the first ones to preach his resurrection to fear-filled disciples on Easter morning.
In Mark 9:33-41, there is an instance in which the disciples forbade an exorcist from casting out demons in Jesus’ name because the exorcist did not follow them. The exorcist was not a “member” of their little church.
Jesus responded that they should not forbid the exorcist. For one thing, Jesus said, if the exorcist was not against him, then the exorcist was for him.
And second, the disciples should not fear losing their “blessing” if they accept a cup of water–(in other words, ministry)–from such a one as this stranger. Mutual welcome defeats fear and inspires a new Easter community in which strangers and misfits can all minister in Jesus’ name (see Jesus’ “set up” for this conversation with the disciples in Mark 9:37).
Easter’s radical hospitality dares us to reach out to strangers. It also dares us to go beyond a handshake and see how Christ can minister to us and our churches–even by including such folks in positions of leadership if the Spirit so moves–via those very strangers.
Like Christ on the cross who made a way for sinners to be reconciled to God, so too do we stand with our arms outstretched to endorse the mutual welcome that brings us all into a new way of being community. Misfits and all.