The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
When I was in training I made friends with a couple from America. He was doing a PhD and she was on an exchange. Through their links with Westcott House they went traveling one Easter holiday around churches in the North of England, hosted by local people in their homes. Eating dinner cooked by a different host each night.
We met up with them a week into their travels for a meal. We asked them what they wanted to eat, and when they were sure nobody was listening they answered: “Anything, anything but pasta.” As it transpired with each house they’d been to the host had produced a lovingly made Lasagna. Every single night they had eaten Lasagna, with the statement: “We made it specially because we thought you’d like it.” Joe simply said: “I can’t even look at another Lasagna for a long, long time.”
Their hosts wanted to make something that they would like, to show them hospitality. Something rich and yummy that they knew Americans would eat. Food and drink are something we all need to survive, we can all understand the cries of the Israelites in the dessert in our Old Testament Lesson. Our need for it makes food and drink an equaliser, that is why sharing the Eucharist is so important, we are all equal, whether we are from Canada, France or Thailand or the North or the South, young or old: When we come forward to receive the bread we all chew it the same way, we all drink from the same cup. But food and drink are also a way in which we can express our love for one another, a tangible way to welcome people into our midst and state that they are special. It’s the way we offer hospitality.
This sermon is part of our Lenten series on how we serve one another. Last week the vicar talked about the importance of the servers ministering around the altar. The week before Margaret spoke about how we all must look to welcome each other and especially new comers into our community. This week I am talking about those who volunteer to offer hospitality after the service over coffee or tea.
At the Eucharist God offers us the living bread of Jesus. Much like in today’s gospel story of Jesus at the well, where he shares water with a woman who not only has what would have been considered a dubious history but is also from a dubious clan, being a Samaritan. But not only does he share her water, he offers himself as living water to her. And as the story goes on she understands that he is the Saviour, the Son of God whose grace welling up and overflowing out to all of creation, Jew and Samaritan.
It is so important that we take opportunities to offer hospitality; as a church on a Sunday, during the week at playgroups, at Culture Vulture Ventures. Many of you offer hospitality to each other in your homes. For some it is even your profession. As Christians and as a church when we offer hospitality, it is actually a continuation of the Eucharist, a continuation of Holy Communion, as we continue to commune with one another over coffee and biscuits and dare I say even a glass of something bubbly from time to time. Theologians talk about the clergy being in the role of Christ at the Eucharistic table - like he was at the last supper, welcoming people in, offering them his body and blood. But each of us when we ‘play mother’ and pour the tea or the coffee, greeting people we know and those we don’t with a smile, we are being as Christ, we are representing Christ. But of course, Jesus didn’t just give them all bread and wine, he also washed their feet. So offering hospitality doesn’t stop when everybody has had a drink - because the mugs don’t clean themselves.
And it is because of the nature of the banquet we are promised in the kingdom that we don’t just offer the cheapest instant coffee we can find, but rather the best local coffee from our neighbour Markus. Living Coffee, or is it Lively Coffee, overflowing, like the the loaves and fishes which filled 12 baskets after feeding 5000 people. It’s also why it’s so important that when we have large numbers of guests or newcomers, like at the carol services, that we have people willing to take food around or go around with a bottle of fizz topping up glasses. It’s a great opportunity to practice the N.A. part of Margaret’s welcoming acronym - NAC. ‘Notice' and 'Approach’ offering a coffee or something to eat.
Perhaps you’ve been thinking doing coffee would be a good way of meeting people I don’t usually talk to or you’ve been thinking every good party ends up in the kitchen, if I was on the hospitality team I’m sure I’d have more fun on a Sunday morning. Well it’s the perfect time to take that leap and offer your services as our new coffee rota coordinator, Maija, is trying to pull together a new rota and wants as many new people to help out as possible.
And remember, Margaret likes her coffee Extra Hot, Antonio likes his slightly cooled and the Vicar is from the North so he likes tea that you can stand a fork up in. And I have small children, so I just need coffee on an intra-venus drip.