Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hospitality and Worship

In the story of Abraham, the lesson about hospitality is fundamental, touching the deepest mysteries of revelation. Consider the similarities between the meeting at Mamre and the celebration of the Eucharist. The order is changed a little, but similarities are overwhelming.

The rhythm of hospitality described when Abraham meets the three strangers includes bowing in welcome, washing feet, rest, bread, feasting, concern about family, intercessory prayer, exchange of gifts.

The Mass includes a careful welcome from the priest at the opening, in the name of God, corresponding to Abraham’s prompt and warm welcome. It includes water to wash, although it’s self-serve, and it’s for fingers, not toes. It includes a place to rest – or sit, anyway.

Mass includes bread, of course – consecrated, transformed and transformative, but bread. It’s a feast – neither steak nor lamb, but the flesh of the Lord. But also, “man does not live by bread alone.”  We are fed first in the readings from Scripture.

Abraham and his celestial visitors talked about Sarah, specifically about her lack of faith. Mass includes deliberate recollection of family and community, throughout time and space. We recall that we join in prayer with the Church throughout the world – the pope, the bishops, everyone. We exchange a “kiss of peace.” We pray the OUR Father, asking for forgiveness for OUR sins.

After the feast, God spoke to Abraham about Sodom, and Abraham pleaded for mercy. At Mass, we include intercessory prayer, most obviously in the “prayers of the faithful.”

There is, of course, a part of the Mass that was not foreshadowed by Abraham’s feast at Mamre: the sacrifice of Calvary that is central at Mass. That sacrifice is foreshadowed by the puzzling story of Abraham’s planned and then averted child sacrifice. Abraham had only one son with his wife Sarah. He heard God ask him to offer his son in sacrifice. An angel intervened at the last moment to protect Isaac from Abraham’s knife. Was this “test” or a “temptation”? Questions abound. But for sure: the covenant that God made with Abraham was indeed sealed with blood of Abraham’s offspring – generations later. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son Isaac, but God did indeed sacrifice his only son Jesus.  The sacrifice at Mass is foreshadowed in Abraham life, but not by the feast at Mamre.

At Mass, we are often a little careless about the role of the “acolytes,” or altar servers. But historically, their role was not just to move things around, but far more, to be visible reminders to pray and worship, like candles and incense but living. Similarly, the role of the “porter” or usher is not just to be polite; they are the face of welcome – Abraham rushing to the door, bowing.

How significant is the story of hospitality in Genesis? Hospitality is central to our worship. God and man at table are sat down. The stranger at the door is God, who comes to teach us and feed us and rescue us.