The Taser's Edge

Entertaining Angels Aware

This semester, I brought with me the pastoral caregiver image of the Road to Emmaus—meeting with folks for a short time and then parting ways, but in that short time seeing Jesus Christ reveal Himself.  Honestly, I picked that image up during my internship from my first supervisor, and part of the reason I liked it was because I wanted to have a Biblical image, and I hadn’t yet found my own.  That image became my own for most of my internship, and has remained important as I have continued into this residency.  But this unit has another important image which has in some ways taken the place of the Emmaus meeting.  As I have more and more viewed my ministry of chaplaincy as a ministry of hospitality, I have searched for Biblical images of hospitality that speak both to what I offer and to what I receive in the human (marinated and infused with divine!) encounter between chaplain and patient.  The image that I have returned to again and again in my pastoral work reports and my own meditations on this unit is that of Abraham offering a meal to the three angels/divine beings who visit him in Genesis 18:

And the Lord appeared to him…[Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, so that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on.” (vv. 1-5, English Standard Version)

I had actually never noticed until I began writing this reflection that there is an image of footwashing in the passage, although this translation doesn’t make clear who is washing the visitors’ feet, whether Abraham or a servant or the ‘men’ themselves.  In later verses there is also an urgency to Abraham’s hospitality.  Already quoted above, he ‘ran…to meet them;’ later, in v. 6, ‘he went quickly;’ and in v.7 he ‘ran to the herd’ and has a young man ‘prepare [the calf] quickly.’  I have to admit that I haven’t mined all that is to be said about this passage and its connection to pastoral care.  What does urgency mean in pastoral care?  Well, that’s perfectly clear when on-call.  It’s not so clear how we work with urgency to see our patient-parishioners, but it might be clearer if I viewed my visits as visits in which God reveals Godself.  This is a whole different kind of urgency than I sometimes feel within myself, an urgency driven by anxiety that I need to see more patients because the hospital or the CPE program or my overactive guilt muscle (which I am prone to confusing with the Holy Spirit) says that I should.  The Abraham and Angels image is rushing to a place of grace, rather than away from a place of guilt, shame, and anxiety.

For my Anglican Missional Pastor training this month (July), I read Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy.  On p. 117: “The Christian [sacred/liturgical] images…simply take up and develop the canon already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence.  The individual events are now ordered toward the Christian sacraments and toward Christ himself…The sacrifice of Isaac and the meal of the three angels with Abraham speak of Christ’s sacrifice and the Eucharist” (emphasis added to show the connection).  The Eucharist is central to my understanding of how persons are transformed by the Holy Spirit, carried through the wounds of Christ into the Father’s arms and onto the Father’s wide lap.  The thought of my ministry as sacramental is nothing new to me, because I love to pursue the idea of sacramentality in all parts of life.  The thought of my ministry as essentially Eucharistic, however, is new.  And with an understanding of Genesis 18 as connected to the Lord’s Supper, the footwashing in the story connects Abraham and the Angels to Maundy Thursday, as Christ’s washes the disciples’ feet and then offers the first Communion.

But what does it mean for ministry when my offering of pastoral care is an attempt to wash feet and to offer the Bread of Heaven?  What does it mean when I recognize that the ones to whom I am offering hospitality are in some way divine (a mystery, just as I still am not sure who the three ‘men’ in Genesis 18 are, or how they are divine)?  And a final thought, pertaining to what it means for me to offer pastoral care particularly to the adherents of religions not my own (a learning goal for this unit): what does a ministry centered around Eucharist mean for those patients for whom ‘Eucharist’ has no meaning (except, perhaps, an offensive one)?

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