May 4, 2019
The Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah
May 4, 2019
Andrei Rublev’s icon (15th c) shows God’s representatives sitting around Abraham and Sarah’s table. Abraham’s house is in the background beside the “Oak of Mamre” and Mt. Moriah. This threesome was also Rublev’s stand-in for the Holy Trinity—Russian Orthodoxy forbade the explicit depiction of God at this time. Suggestive of the Trinity is the way the wings of the figures dovetail and the circle they form. As we try to look at each individual, our eyes are drawn to the circle, bringing us into their unity. They are enjoying each other and the hospitality of their hosts, with the cup of communion prominently at the center.
Henri Nouwen invites us to pray to focus on this icon, which was created in a time of turmoil in Russia. In our own days of anxieties pervaded by “dark powers,” we remember that “it is possible not to belong to these powers but to choose the house of love. This choice [is made] by living a spiritual life, praying at all times and thus breathing God’s breath. Through the spiritual life, we gradually move from the house of fear to the house of love.” Nouwen says that praying with the icon is a way of keeping our “hearts centered in God while in the midst of political unrest.” He encourages us to pray, not as an escape, but while we continue “to be fully engaged in the struggles of our hate-and-fear-filled world.” (Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons, Ave Maria Press, 1987)
The story of Abraham and Sarah’s gracious welcome reminds us of Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing this, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Luke 14:12-14 expands on the theme. Jesus instructs believers to have an invitation list for a dinner party that includes—not “important” people—but the poor and disabled, the outcasts. In so doing, we are inviting God to our table: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40). Can we aspire to have God at our table?
QUESTIONS FOR THE FIELD
- What are some ways you have used art or the artistic imagination to deepen your prayer life? What art in our church is especially prayerful for you?
- What does the phrase “Christian hospitality” mean to you?
FAMILY FIELD TALK
- Why do we say a blessing before a meal? What is your favorite table prayer?
- At mealtime, remember people who don’t have enough to eat and how we can help them.
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and may these gifts to us be blessed. And may there be a goodly share; on every table everywhere. Amen. (Traditional German Table Prayer)