Trinity 11: Entertaining Angels Unaware

Dr Clare Amos, who among her other roles coordinates the Diocesan Ministry Scheme, writes on two of this week’s lectionary readings. She particularly focuses in Hebrews 13.1-8, 15-16, though also draws attention to the Gospel reading, Luke 14.1, 7-14.

It is one of those pithy biblical sayings which has crept into wide use certainly among English speakers : ‘Entertaining angels unawares’ is a remark that is used by many more than avid readers of the Bible. Indeed, if asked, many regular readers of the Bible would be hard-pressed to immediately locate its origin in these verses from the Letter to the Hebrews chapter 13. It has to be said that the modern NRSV translation, which speaks of entertaining angels ‘without knowing it’ doesn’t have quite the same ring! It is of course referring to the story of Abraham’s hospitality to the three mysterious angels of Genesis 18, a visit which led to him and Sarah receiving in return far far more than they had expected.

It is a mixed bag of instructions and commands that are gathered together in these first 8 verses of this chapter of Hebrews. They are then summarized and undergirded by the striking statement, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13.8). It seems to suggest that giving hospitality isn’t just a sort of incidental niceness to strangers – but takes us to the very heart of the eternal nature of God. Hospitality is also a theme of this week’s lectionary Gospel reading (Luke 14.1, 7-14), and will also be so next week. The Gospel of Luke in particular makes clear how the receiving and the giving of hospitality are fundamental aspects of the earthly ministry of Jesus.

As I write this reflection, I am currently in Rome with the 2019-20 cohort of interns who will be spending time in several chaplaincies in our diocese between now and the end of June 2020 as part of the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme (MES). They will be learning, working, worshipping and exploring what may be their future vocations in the life of the church. We are having our induction meeting here in Rome – and as with many events in the life of our diocese it would not be possible without generous hospitality offered to us, in this case partly by All Saints, the Anglican church in Rome which is a chaplaincy of our diocese. Later today we will be visiting the Episcopal church in the city, St Paul’s within the Walls, to hear about the ministry to refugees which has been developed by that church. Such hospitality to refugees is a regular part of the work of many chaplaincies in our diocese.

Over the last couple of years the learning and reflection of the MES interns has been focused around a particular ‘theme’ which they have shared something about in a presentation to Diocesan Synod towards the conclusion of their time with us. Last year the theme was ‘pilgrimage’, this year it will be ‘hospitality’. It is an appropriate theme, both in terms of learning about the importance of hospitality in the life and work of many of our chaplaincies, and the hospitality that each of them will receive in the coming months which makes this MES programme possible. In her introductory talk yesterday one of our pastoral mentors reminded us that the writer Henri Nouwen had spoken of ‘listening’ as a deep form of spiritual hospitality: I am sure that our interns will both experience such ‘spiritual hospitality’ on the part of others, and I hope will learn more about practicing it themselves.

Deliberately, one of the motifs which undergird the Diocesan Rule of Life and accompanying prayer which were introduced at this year’s Synod in June, is hospitality. Both Rule and Prayer draw from the story of Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus in emphasizing its importance. The hospitable invitation, ‘’Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over’ (Luke 24.29) has consequences beyond their imagining and their hopes. In some ways that Emmaus encounter feels like a New Testament parallel to the Old Testament story of the angelic visit to Abraham in Genesis 18 to which Hebrews 13.2 refers, and it is interesting that a there is a depiction of the Emmaus story by the Indian Christian artist Jyoti Sahi which  clearly echoes the famous depiction of Abraham’s three visitors offered in the beautiful icon of Andrei Rublev. (Jyoti Sahi’s picture can be found as number 8 in the sequence of his art at https://globalworship.tumblr.com/post/142159343095/emmaus-art-india)

roublev trinity

The Icon of the Hospitality of Abraham, Andrei Rublev, 15th century.

Rublev’s icon is also a reminder that as Hebrews 13.8 suggests, such hospitality is not just a one off haphazard event, but that we are receiving, experiencing and perhaps even participating in something that is profoundly part of the nature of God. The short verses below, written many years ago now by my husband Alan Amos, dare to suggest in acts of hospitality we are being invited to ‘mirror’ the divine life revealed in our world.

Three in one, in closest harmony

Circled by love, in tender symmetry

Offering up the Lamb who is to be

Life for the world

 

Angels are they, yet hold in meaning more

Than angels visiting at Sarah’s door:

God’s life itself, ready for us to pour

Grace on this world.

 

Help us then this circle now to join,

Our lives in newborn harmony entwine

In action mirroring the life divine

Revealed in our world.

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