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In his recent Erasmus Lecture, “The Desecration of Man,” Carl Trueman argued that our best response to today's precipitous cultural decline is to cultivate local communities of worship and faithfulness. In the Q&A that followed, Trueman spoke movingly about the power of hospitality as a concrete, personalized expression of kindness and love that can help mend atomization, estrangement, and loneliness. Trueman is right: Hospitality works, but it works because it’s more than useful. As writers such as Christine Pohl and Joshua Jipp have emphasized of late, hospitality is of the essence of the church and her mission. 

The Bible is a grand narrative of divine hospitality. In the beginning, God made room for what is not God, for heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them. Creation is an act of divine hospitality by which God welcomed into existence what is not. God spread a table and opened his hand to satisfy the desires of every living thing. The six days end with an invitation to a feast: “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed and every tree that has fruit yielding seed. It shall be bread for you” (Gen. 1:29).

East in Eden, God planted a garden where he hosted man. The drama of redemption began with a busted feast, when Adam and Eve refused God’s invitation to the tree of life and instead seized the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge. Adam and Eve fell because they abused the Creator’s hospitality. They were expelled from the garden, and the generous earth turned stingy. Adam and all his descendants were exiled from God’s house of hospitality.

God was determined to receive man and all creatures to himself so all might rejoice together in his peaceable kingdom. In the tabernacle and temple, he partially restored the original garden. Yahweh drew near to Israel and lived among them, so they could enter his courts to eat, drink, and rejoice. At Yahweh’s holy feast hall, Israel approached closer to God than any humans had since Eden. In the fullness of time, to draw his people still nearer, the Father sent the Son into the world to dwell not in curtains or stone, nor to hide behind a veil. The Word tabernacled in human flesh and displayed the glory of the Father for all to see. 

Through Jesus, the Father re-established his table at the center of the church, which is the center of the world. His hospitality makes the church. Baptism is an invitation into the Father’s house, where we are more than guests. Receiving the Father’s hospitality, we become the Father’s hospitality. The church is the human temple of God, the fulfilled house of hospitality, anticipating the eschaton when God will open his cosmic banquet. 

Hospitality isn’t just what we receive or what we do. Hospitality is what we are. The church exists to invite those who are still exiled in Adam to share the table of the Father through Jesus his Son. Our life together is a life of welcome to neighbors, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ—but also to strangers, to outcasts, to the forgotten. We keep the feast for the sake of the world, so the Father’s hospitality will not vanish from the earth.

Our hospitality is rooted in the character of God. The living God is an eternally hospitable God. He is hospitable because he’s Triune. God isn’t a blob or a block or a wispy fog, but more like a family or a society, a communion of eternal Persons. Communion, fellowship, friendship, self-giving love—this is the life of God. As the Son, Jesus is “in” the Father, and the Father is “in” him, so that there’s perfect correspondence, a perfect family likeness between Father and Son. As Jesus told Philip, we see the Father in him. There’s no stern, merciless Father lurking behind the compassionate Savior. What you see is what you get, because the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. And both Father and Son dwell “in” the Spirit, so that, when the Spirit comes to be with us, Jesus promises, “We”—the Father and the Son—“will come to him and make Our abode with him.” 

Here is the deepest root of hospitality: The Father opens himself to make room for the Son; the Son is roomy enough to be the eternal dwelling place of the Father; the Spirit makes room in each for each, and in himself for both. God welcomes God: That’s who God is. And in Christ Jesus, God welcomes us. The Father dwells in the Son, and the Son in the Father. And in Christ Jesus, they dwell in us and we in them. God is roomy enough for God, and in Christ Jesus he makes room in himself for us. Living as the Father’s hospitality, we imitate the eternal Son, carry on his mission, and prove ourselves to be sons and daughters of a heavenly Father. As the Father’s living house of hospitality, we become the human image of the living God, whose life is joyful welcome.

Peter J. Leithart is president of the Theopolis Institute, and organizing pastor of Immanuel Reformed Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

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Image by Rectorstdavids via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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