Risen Lord, you visited eleven disciples while they were eating. Prepare us to meet you today in the moments when we eat with others.
Tolstoy wrote about a shoemaker who had been told that the Lord would visit him. All day he looked up hoping for a divine visitor and in the process welcomed and helped many needy people. Finally he realized that he had been welcoming Jesus in each of the people he served. Here we see Abraham welcoming people with the same gracious spirit. He thinks he is serving three travelers, and it gradually emerges that he has been entertaining angels unawares.
The detailed account of the welcome includes many aspects of oriental hospitality, but we begin to feel Abraham is going well beyond what passing travelers would have expected. Large quantities of bread are baked, and a calf is freshly killed. Abraham is responding in his spirit to the unusual majesty of his visitors. By the time serious conversation begins he seems to be aware that he is talking to the Lord, but here we discover that this conversation is particularly for Sarah’s benefit. She is out of sight, but the leading visitor makes sure she is in earshot and, startlingly, he knows her inner reaction. Eventually he addresses her directly, ‘you did laugh’
The challenge to keep hoping was even greater for Sarah than for Abraham. Her menopause would be a constant physical reminder of the seeming impossibility. Paul comments on this story in Romans and says,’Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ Of course, suffering can also produce peevishness and despair, but paul is directing those who are in right relationship with God by faith to look beyond suffering. Abraham has been persevering in hope through faith. Sarah’s pregnancy will soon revive her hope and move her closer to the moment when it becomes reality.
It is tempting to shut ourselves away when times seem hard, but offering hospitality to others can open us up to God’s comfort and hope.