London: Hospitality and Belonging
But today we went to the National Gallery, one of the great museums of the world. The one painting that caught my eye, and represents themes of our sabbatical is the Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio, the Italian master. This painting has Jesus in Luke's post resurrection encounters with the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 21. The disciples left Jerusalem before the resurrection, even before or during Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus walks along with them and they don't recognize him. He stays with them for supper and still they don't recognize him until he breaks the bread and gives it to them.
A few things about this painting was particularly meaningful to us. The man on the right is a pilgrim, marked with the pilgrim's shell. We often discover Jesus while we're on the road, travelling, journeying with others. And his arms are stretched out even into our space, telling us something of his reaction to discovering the risen Jesus is alive and eating with him. Is it an expression of the wide grace of God, or his surprise? Either way, his left hand reaches out to us and invites us in. Jesus has given them the bread, but they have not yet eaten, still on the table ready for us to take. And the basket it hanging over the edge begging us to catch it. We are invited in. There is something about table fellowship that brings us closer to each other and understanding Jesus' welcoming hospitality.
Last night we ate dinner at Gordon's Wine Bar in London. It is an underground, arched brick grotto with tables and candlelight. The tables are shared and people find whatever seat is available to enjoy the wine, cheese plates and cold and hot dishes you get cafeteria style. We landed at a table in a gated room, sharing it with five others. The three who sat on our side of the table were all friends from Australia. Two were married (30 and 25 years old) and expecting their first child, and they were visiting their younger (19 years old) in London on their way from Norway to New York on their five month world tour (which they planned before they knew they were pregnant).
We toasted them on their pregnancy and finding out the sex of their baby that morning in Norway. We shared a bit of our story having twins when we were 27, some of the joys of parenthood and the great opportunity to be away together for four months in our 25th year of marriage. The conversation made its way to talking about being a pastor and answering their questions about what kind of church we have and what we've learned about churches on our travels. It was a very warm, honest, fun conversation.
And they shared their stories as well. The married couple both left home when they were fourteen years old because of issues with their parents. The younger woman left home to travel and discover new things at 19. None of them grew up in church, but believed in something and weren't sure you really needed to be specific about "God" except to do your best to live well and make good choices. They all felt the churches they visited and know about are about rules, power and money (the Vatican "took" the best marble from Greece? Indulgences paid for the construction of St. Peters? People make up rules for others to follow and then abuse children? People who don't know God live good lives and those who say they know God are as sinful as anyone?) How can we argue? Where is the true experience of God in the church?
As I described our church I talked about a place where we serve and make a difference in the community "because who cares what you believe if it doesn't make a difference for others?" and a place of community in small groups "because we are all so disconnected from each other—where else can you have meaningful conversations like this?" We all smiled because we knew we were experiencing some kind of "God-moment," or "it was meant to be" moment. They and we were 8 or 9 time zones from home in different directions, but we talked about life, faith and family over bread, wine and appetizers.
Amy and I went home blessed. What is most important to people who don't understand what God or Jesus or Church means to us? It's not always believing in the same things, but it's almost always belonging to something meaningful. Jesus belonged to those disciples in a special way around the table. He could have told them on the road, but something special happened when they were breaking bread together.