The scriptures are replete with stories of God’s hospitality. The narrative of God’s love for the world reminds us that hospitality has a redemptive quality, and that it is boundless, calling God’s people to welcome immigrants, angels, messengers, sinners, even God in flesh! Jesus demonstrates the radical nature of God’s hospitality by entering into the life of “the other,” by befriending sinners and by being a guest at the tables of the despised and marginalized. We are all “the other.” We are the estranged guests whom God has invited to the great feast and embraced upon our arrival.
But God’s hospitality is not just a moral attribute to imitate or a command to heed. It is a creative act which is rooted in who God is, an invitation to participate in the divine life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are perhaps reminded of Paul’s famous words, “In him we live and move and have our being.” Renowned theologian Robert Jenson beautifully captures this for us by describing the “roominess” of God:
“God can indeed, if he chooses, accommodate others persons in his life without distorting that life. God, to state it as boldly as possible, is roomy.2
God’s “roominess,” Jenson suggests, is inherent in God’s act of creation.
“…for God to create is for him to open a place in his triune life for others than the three whose mutual life he is…’God is … his own place’. In that place, he makes room, and that act is the event of creation.”3
But what is the nature of this roomy place? Jenson says that the room God makes for us in the triune life can be described as “time.” Not simply a duration or sequence of unfilled moments, but a narrative of movements, events, relationships. In the life of God, time is what constitutes the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “The Father is the ‘whence’ of God’s life; the Spirit the ‘whither’ of God’s life; and we may even say that the Son is that life’s specious present.”4
The Incarnation is the event, the relation, the story – indeed the “time” –of God’s eternal movement toward the world. In Jesus Christ, we encounter the eternal life of the trinity who has made room for us by literally making time for us. The Incarnation is an event that we experience in our time but which mysteriously opens before us the economy of God’s eternity. It is the eternal God, who yet emerges temporal, God in history, yet moving beyond history, God in mortal flesh, yet flesh which reveals God’s divine life, God in the fullness of time, yet experiencing time with us. The stunning mystery of God’s hospitality is that “God takes time in his time for us.”5
Within a fallen world yearning for its redemption, we experience a lack of God’s “roominess,” a lack of time. We experience time in terms of anticipation, grief, longing, relationships, the decay of our bodies, and the hope of glory. The story of our lives is one burdened by mortality, temporality, and never having a full sense of the width and depth of God’s “room” for us. But by coming into the world, God makes room for the world. The Incarnation is an invitation to the capacious “timefullness” of eternity in perfect relationship with God, humanity, and a redeemed cosmos. God’s time is not commensurate with our experience of time, but we can rest assured that in Jesus Christ, God takes time in his time for us. This is triune hospitality.
In the life of the church, hospitality is typically framed in terms of making space, scheduling events, making others feel welcome. This is all well and good. But if we are to be shaped and formed by the God who makes time for us, it may simply be a matter of us leaving room in our lives to make time for “the other.” Making “time” for the other does not just mean clearing a schedule. Rather, it is a matter of intentionally entering into relationships and into the stories of others, especially those for whom we’ve seemingly had so little time. In this way, we begin to reflect God’s hospitality for the world while heeding the call to love God and neighbor as ourselves. Hospitality is thus the church’s way of participating in the roominess of God’s life, sharing in the time God makes for us, and being a sacrament of God’s love in the world.6
- What ministries or avenues in the life of your congregation could be used to form people into disciples who make time for others?
- What activities or events in your congregation are precluding people from following Jesus into the lives of others where they might experience God’s hospitality?
- In what ways might your congregation take strides not only to extend hospitality to “the other,” but to be the recipients of hospitality offered by “the other”? In other words, how might we position ourselves to be invited and welcomed into the lives and stories of the stranger, the marginalized, the forgotten, and the oppressed?
- Acts 17:28.
- Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology, Vol I. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 241.
- Robert Jenson, “Aspects of a Doctrine of Creation,” in Colin Gunton, ed. The Doctrine of Creation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 24, citing John of Damascus, The Catholic Faith, 13.9-11.
- Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology, Vol I, 219.
- Jenson, Systematic Theology, Vol II. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 35.
- David Kirk, “Hospitality: Essence of Eastern Christian Lifestyle,” in Diakonia 16/2 (1981): 112.