I was recently prompted to remember an important conversation with a friend. This friend identifies “radical hospitality” as an important part of her mission and ministry. By extending and receiving hospitality, she hopes to encounter the differences that often lead to conflict, meeting them with generosity and openness, rather than suspicion. She believes that hospitality is a gift, a tool and a mandate given by God to the church. I have been nourished and grown by the hospitality she models. I believe it is a form of Christian peacemaking.
My brother-in-law also practices lavish hospitality, although he probably wouldn’t consider it to be his mission or ministry. He is a talented cook, and he regularly invites people to share a meal at his home. His hospitality is directed mostly toward family and friends, most of whom are very much alike. While a gracious encounter with difference is not the focal point of these meals, I must admit: I’m really glad to be invited.
While I’ve found both of these forms of hospitality to be meaningful, I’ve also been puzzled about how they’re related. I found a compelling answer in Bishop Amos Muhagachi, who recently shared communion at my seminary in the style of Tanzania Mennonite Church: “Mungu ni mwema! Know that God is good!”
A good meal — whether it’s with friends and family, or with strangers and sojourners — can be a reminder of God’s goodness. Hospitality can remind us all of the goodness of God’s creation, in which we share, and of which we are a part. But more than being simply a reminder, hospitality nourishes us and shelters us in objective ways. A warm, dry place to sleep is a tangible gift. So is a meal, a cup of coffee or a friendly conversation. Hospitality is the loving power of God made manifest. It is God’s creation, given and received as good.
If the meaning of hospitality is grounded in the good work of God the creator, then we miss out when we reduce “radical hospitality” to a religious way of talking about multiculturalism or immigration policy. We miss out on truths about God and creation which might renew more than just our politics. In a similar way, when we talk about “creation” as though it is a religious idiom for the environment and our concerns about it, we miss out on an opportunity to deepen our relationship with the Creator God.
Hospitality is powerful. However, we must not be arrogant in our estimation of hospitality’s power. The power of hospitality is grounded in creation, and creation suffers the corrupting effects of sin. Our hospitality, too, is fallen. It is corruptible. In Christ alone do we find salvation from sin’s power to distort the goodness of God’s creation. In Christ, we are a new creation.
As we share in Christian communion, we share in the meal of the new creation. In this hospitality, we encounter the loving power of God made manifest in Christ, given and received as good. Faced with the magnitude of this gift, I am moved to share God’s hospitality with every tribe, tongue and nation. I hope for all people to know Christ’s saving power, and to eat the bread of life that he gives. I long for all people to take their place at his table. Evangelism flows naturally (or, perhaps, supernaturally) from Christian communion. Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
Matthew Cordella-Bontrager is a third-year M.Div student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., and attends Yellow Creek Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.