This past Easter, my husband and I were hosting 11 adults and a baby for Easter, and we faced a small dilemma: We have a table that seats only 10 comfortably.
We pondered our options. Should we break into two tables, thus creating more space, but two conversational groups? Or would it be better to crowd around one table, even if a bit cramped, to preserve the "one happy family" setting?
I used to think such planning was unnecessary and just a manifestation of hostess anxiety, but I no longer believe that. I now recognize that it's all part of practicing hospitality, and hospitality is repeatedly held up as a significant ministry within Scripture.
From Abraham and Sarah laying out a meal for three strangers (who turn out to be angels), to instances of Jesus being entertained in the homes of friends, there is a high premium set on hospitality and welcome in the Bible.
I have been in enough situations of receiving hospitality to know that it makes all the difference to how I feel, especially in a situation that may be unfamiliar. Decades ago, my husband and I traveled to Germany with a church choir and were housed with the pastor and his wife in a small, German town with an ancient church and small parsonage.
It was evident that this household was far from wealthy. I spoke very little German, and our host pastor spoke not much English. It could have been a very awkward situation.
But the hospitality we experienced was over-the-top. The warmth of their welcome, their exuberance in sharing what they had, and the pride they displayed in providing for us has left an impression of Christian hospitality to this day for us.
After one especially good after-church coffee time that set the tone for a congregational meeting that might have been difficult, but turned out to be quite easy, I thanked the hostess.
She replied, "I'm a great believer in the principals of the Benedictine order, one of which is: The quality of the hospitality shapes the conversation."
And was she right. The quality of her hospitality helped to shape our gathering and conversation. It put us all immediately into a positive mindset. Hospitable practices are not only Biblical, they make a very real and positive difference in how anyone's experience is shaped.
This holds true not only for Easter dinners or church meetings, but for worship, concerts or any activity in our churches.
They include things like the comfort of the seating arrangements, the reliability of the sound system and the friendly quality of greeters and ushers.
All of these are things of which we, as churches, should all be aware. Hospitality is a chief way that we can extend Christ's welcome to our communities. We are blessed when we practice it or receive it.
Pastor Susan lives in Duluth and is the Pastor at Knife River Lutheran Church, a congregation that practices excellent hospitality and serve delicious food.