Carry Your Cross To Coffee Hour

Given that I have The Worst Flu in the world, so bad that it rises to the level of Man Flu, I’ve had enormous amounts of time to troll Twitter. There I came upon this nice Christian person who, let me hasten to say, is Nice and even, Saying True Things. But he had the misfortune to have a wrong opinion about coffee hour, and so I had to leap up and be a jerk. Here are his three tweets.

Jesus’ hospitality was more about the opening of one’s heart than the opening of one’s home.
He had no home of his own, but many found their home in him.

Christian hospitality is not coffee and donuts after Sunday service.
It’s compassionately welcoming the stranger.

And this welcoming of the stranger begins by recognizing that God in Christ welcomes us (total strangers) into the life and home of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There’s nothing like Flu to turn one into a primordial jerk. So I retweeted the second one and said this, “I feel like these two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.” (with emoji, to signal that I’m just being funny and not the troll that I’m actually being.)

Ok, so, if you’ve been reading me for any length of time you know that on Sundays I blog about how you should go to church, and that six out of ten times, I say clever things about how you should go to coffee hour. You should go to coffee hour, I say all the time, which means that you should go to a church that has a coffee hour. If you went to the service, you should go to the coffee hour. Just to say it another way, Coffee Hour is one of The Central Pillars of the Christian experience. If you aren’t neglecting to meet together as some, but then aren’t going to coffee hour, you are so wrong.

And I will illustrate why by way of the above tweets.

Jesus’ hospitality was more about the opening of one’s heart than the opening of one’s home. He had no home of his own, but many found their home in him.

This essentially true tweet nevertheless saunters by the very center of the incarnation. Yes, Jesus didn’t have a home, and yes, many found their home in him, but that’s because he himself is the temple, the place of our worship. The temple had to crumble and fall after his ascension into heaven because we are supposed to find our worshiping home in him. But the thing is, it’s not “more about opening one’s heart.” It actually has to be about opening one’s actual home, regardless of whatever your heart might feel about it. Jesus came and took on our flesh, he made his home with us in a material physical way. He had a body. He had feet and hands. He ate food. He lived out the totality of what it means to be human. You can’t–well, you can, but you shouldn’t–pit the material against the spiritual. He didn’t open his home, because he Is Home, but he absolutely went into everybody else’s homes, over and over again. And it was the grittiness and trial of ordinary material hospitality that connected him with his friends, and even his enemies. Washing feet, washing dishes, seating arrangements, bread and wine, lamb, these are all the substance of hospitality. You can’t walk past them in your hurry to get to the stranger.

Which brings me to the question of donuts. Our tweeter tweets,

Christian hospitality is not coffee and donuts after Sunday service.
It’s compassionately welcoming the stranger.

And I cry out, these are not mutually exclusive! Coffee Hour is coffee and donuts after the Sunday service. That’s what it is. You have to have a place to welcome people and you have to have donuts to feed them and coffee to wake them up. To what are you welcoming the stranger if you have none of these things? Into the spiritual morass of your troubled heart? No, you want to welcome him to church, and maybe eventually into an affectionate relationship, but first just to church, to the body of believers.

You need the donuts. You need the awkwardness of standing around over the grotesquely bland sugar and stale flour, the not quite warm enough styrofoam encased, slightly too week coffee. You need to stand there and cast about in your mind for something to talk about to someone you don’t know very well, to a person, like you, who is a jumbled mess of expectations and sorrows, who came and hoped that Jesus would solve all the problems but then the solution unhappily was to wander up to the front and take a sip of wine (oh my word, the flu, the flu) and swallow down the stale wafer. You are a body, a person, your heart cannot transcend the trials and troubles of your material life. You’re not supposed to. Jesus came into a body just like yours because you couldn’t climb up and get to him. Coffee hour is for such a time as this.

And this welcoming of the stranger begins by recognizing that God in Christ welcomes us (total strangers) into the life and home of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Yes but not until you’ve stood around in the awkwardness of death at coffee hour. How are you going to do this? How are you going to welcome the stranger and recognize that Christ welcomes you? You can’t do this on your own, in your spirit, in your immortal soul. You have to go to coffee hour. You have to accept the material limitations of who you are, of your own mortal flesh. Our good tweeter has it backwards. First you go to coffee hour. First you look at the substance of this difficult materially limited life. Then you look at Jesus and the dust and the trouble of his time on earth. And then, by being the person that you are, then you can see the stranger. You can begin to understand that we were strangers to God, but that he came to make us friends.

As Anthony Esolen said, it’s not that we’re too materialistic, it’s that we aren’t material enough. We want to leap over the physicality of life to the life of the spirit. It seems like a good idea. But you end up shouldering an intractable burden when you try to live that way. You will always be stubbing your toe on the reality of this life. And you won’t end up in a church where people really know each other. You have to look at the way life really is–material, inconvenient, embarrassing, filled with moments you wish you could pass by. That’s what church is. You don’t need to climb over it to get to Jesus because Jesus is already there. You have to stand fixed, awkwardly picking over the donuts, painfully getting to know others and be known by them, looking over the cavernous distance of alienation and loneliness into the eyes of another person, who, like you, was a stranger, but who has been brought near by the blood of Christ.

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