picnic

Jesus never hosted a meal. He never put a rota together to ensure he had quiche and cold meats. In our unsettling times, we too can harness the hospitality around us to share food and stand in solidarity with others.

My area of Reading is wonderfully diverse in many ways. With worrying reports of racially-motivated attacks after the Brexit referendum, our church, made up of around 15 nationalities, asked how we might respond with hope in the face of fear.

We went for a bring-and-share picnic in the park, inviting as many community groups as possible to join in.

Around 300 people came. Neighbours from the four corners of the world, Leavers and Remainers, people from churches, mosques, temples, as well as Pride and the Humanist Assembly, all gathered. It was great fun and an incredibly moving day.

For months afterwards, people from the Polish community left flowers outside the doors of our church to thank us for bringing people together. It was a simple response to those who would stoke fearfulness and division.

The picnic was also an outworking of our corporate reading of the way Jesus shared meals. Jesus never hosted a meal. He never put a rota together to ensure he had quiche and cold meats. Rather he assumed and leaned on the hospitality that was already there in the people around him and invited those near him to come and share in it. As with the parables, these meals took the ordinary encounters and experiences of life and animated them. Rules of culture and creation were broken or reversed so that foot-washing, bread, wine, and company became something more. Holiness was no longer like dancing around traps, but a response to the gravitational-like pull of grace in Jesus that invited, challenged, delighted, and drew humanity to seek wholeness.

The Kingdom of God is a feast, and the gospels record the ways Jesus invited those he met to come and join in. Illness, poverty, piety, social class, and ritual uncleanliness were being stripped of their power to stigmatise and separate by the grace of God. All who were wearied by such burdens and fear were invited to participate in the joy and fulness of life for the first time, rather than just be spectators.

In a nation marked by loneliness and fear, invitations to share hospitality speak deeply to souls starved of connection to others, to their own selves, to the future, and to God. In such times, people can catch glimpses, tastes, and stories of the togetherness of the Kingdom and the holy Christ who is drawing everything to himself.

This gravitational force of grace speeds those running toward God, slows those fleeing from him, and steadies those caught in lukewarm confusion. All from a simple invitation, any of us can make, to share in hospitality with our neighbours.

Words: The Revd Graeme Fancourt

Looking for further inspiration? On 21–23 June, communities up and down the country will be getting together to celebrate kindness, respect and all we have in common. Find out more at greatgettogether.org