Welcome moves8 Jan 2020
The unspoken contract between host and invitee places obligations on both, and where those obligations meet is thanksgiving.
As we enter into the festive season there are so many things that we look forward to and are excited about.
Central to every celebration or get-together during this period is food. Indeed, over-indulgence in food over Christmas and New Year is the reason for many resolutions.
Food brings people together. The human story and religion generally revolves around communal dining.
Today whenever people come together a shared meal is essential.
It is what we do. It seems that from the earliest times offering a visitor or stranger a meal has been ‘human’. In some cultures, the offering of food is a sign of wealth, for most however a meal is a sign of welcome and of peace.
Sharing of a meal encourages people to enter into a deeper level of conversation as leisurely dining allows time for discussion.
Conversations during a meal are organic and meander as each person listens to the other. A good meal not only satisfies the stomach, the conversation and connection it facilitates nourishes the soul. New friends are made over a meal. Strained relationships are mended.
Lifelong love often begins in the sharing of a meal and the conversations had. In sharing a meal, we truly enter into communion with one another.
Honour the guest
Further to the meal and the conversation, humans seem to have always sought to offer more.
There is a seemingly innate desire to both welcome and honour the guest. When we invite others into our homes to share a meal we spend a lot of time trying to offer the best to a guest as a sign of esteem and friendship. Sharing a meal is an experience and expression of one’s hospitality.
In many cultures a guest is genuinely treated like a loved family member. Often hospitality extends to providing shelter and protection to the stranger or guest.
How we treat our guest is a summation of our virtue and integrity. If we are a deemed a good host we are held in high esteem in our communities. If we are a poor host it seems that we have failed in our fundamental roles as humans.
Sharing a meal and offering hospitality is a form of thanksgiving. The effort and cost required to provide a meal and encounter the other in conversation is symbolic of the gratitude one has for being honoured by the guest. The offer of a meal must be received and accepted by the guest.
In agreeing to share a meal the guest enters into a relationship. The excitement, planning and effort required to produce the meal is thus a form of thanksgiving. We are grateful when an invitation is accepted and we are able to spend time preparing for and with the recipient. It can therefore be said that sharing a meal is a form of Eucharist. These ideas are illustrated in the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Although they encounter Jesus physically they do not know him until they share a meal. Opening up a space for true dialogue via a meal and the hospitality afforded by inviting Jesus, the stranger, into the home reveals to them that Jesus was present the whole time. This unmasking occurs in the breaking of the bread. It also illustrates a hidden truth: in welcoming a stranger you might encounter the most important person you will ever meet.
The meal you share and the deep connection made through this intimate experience is the essential aspect of being human.
The friendship made or affirmed may reveal an experience of the Divine and the opportunity to give thanks to the Creator through our ability to see through his eyes and love like him.
This is an edited version of an article that appeared in Madonna magazine summer 2019/20 edition.Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.