Sabbath Day Thoughts — Matthew 28:16-20 “The Community of Overflowing Love”
Ireland has long been known as the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, with a well-deserved reputation as the most hospitable nation on earth. In Ireland, lost tourists looking for directions find themselves escorted to their destination with many a story along the way. Visitors to a pub are welcomed like old friends with raised glasses and calls of “Slainte!” An afternoon visit leads to tea with many a cuppa’ and soda bread dotted with raisins and slathered with butter.
This unofficial code of Irish welcome dates back more than 1,000 years to when the Irish clans were regulated by the Brehon Laws. Under Brehon Law, all households were obliged to provide some measure of hospitality to strangers—food, drink, entertainment, and a bed. No prying questions could be asked of the guest, and once hospitality was accepted, the guest refrained from any quarrel or harsh words. The only price of hospitality was the exchange of stories, poetry, and song. In a rural land with few roads and long distances between settlements, these ancient Irish traditions ensured a much-needed welcome for weary travelers.
Today, the warm welcome of the Irish continues to summon visitors from around the world. In 2019, before the pandemic, 11.3 million travelers visited the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, more than double the Irish population. That’s almost three times the number of annual visitors to the Holy Land.
At the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus cast a vision for the life and ministry of his disciples. We call it the Great Commission. Jesus sent his friends forth to all nations to share the gospel. They were commissioned to bear witness to God’s great love for all people, a love that was revealed in the life, death and rising of their Lord. For their mission, the disciples would rely on the hospitality of others. They had to trust that there would be a welcome waiting for them at the end of a long day of travel—safety, the sharing of food, drink, entertainment, and a bed.
It was in acts of hospitality, in the welcoming of strangers and the telling of stories, that the good news of Jesus Christ was shared. At the table or while seated at the fire, tales were told. Strangers became friends. Disciple begat disciple. Hosts were welcomed into the community of Christ, which had its own far-reaching hospitality, a hospitality that found its ultimate expression in the rite of baptism. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, guest became host, host became guest, and all became One in the family of love and faith that Jesus commanded his disciples to make.
Jesus’ vision of an expanding community of love is grounded in the Trinity—the belief that God is Three-in-One. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in eternal community, three simultaneous, co-equal expressions of the One Holy and Almighty God. The theologians say that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit indwell each other (perichoresis). They make room for one another and are hospitable to one another. Reformed author and pastor Leonard Vander Zee describes the Trinity eloquently and understandably when he writes, “At the center of all reality, at the heart of the universe, there exists an eternal divine community of perfect love.”
Everything that we know flows forth from that perfect love. Creation is the expansion and delight of that overflowing divine love. All creatures arise from that overflowing divine love. We are an expression of that overflowing divine love. It is no wonder that when Jesus cast the vision for the church, it was a vision of overflowing divine love, of disciples going forth in love to welcome friends, neighbors, strangers, and all nations into that eternal community of perfect love. Now that’s what we call holy hospitality.
Standing at the intersection of the ancient Brehon Laws of hospitality and the overflowing love of the Triune God is Brigid of Ireland. With Patrick and Columba, Brigid is one of the three patron saints of the Land of a Thousand Welcomes. While Patrick evangelized the Irish, and Columba sailed off to share the gospel with the Scots, Brigid was consecrated as a bishop and established Irish communities where the overflowing love of Christ was revealed.
In the 6th century, Brigid was born a slave to a pagan chieftain and his Christian dairymaid. From an early age, Brigid resolved to live a life of dedication to Christ with great kindness and generosity. She so infuriated her father by giving away his possessions to anyone in need that he sold her with her mother to the household of a druid priest. There, Brigid’s generosity got her into trouble again. Her druid master confronted her for giving away the entire supply of butter, but when Brigid prayed, the butter supply was divinely restored—and more. Her master’s household prospered and grew rich with abundance. Convicted of Brigid’s holiness, the druid and his family were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The druid’s first action as a newborn member of that community of overflowing divine love was to give Brigid her freedom.
Brigid’s kindness and generosity often extended to the most vulnerable of her neighbors. When she fell while riding and struck her head, she asked that the blood from her wound be mixed with water and used to anoint two sisters who were deaf and mute. Both were healed. When a cow had been sorely troubled and milked dry by hungry neighbors, Brigid blessed the poor beast, which then provided ten times the milk expected of it and never went dry again. Brigid gave a mug of water to a leper, instructing him to wash with it, and he was made clean. Brigid’s self-proclaimed purpose was “to satisfy the poor, to banish every hardship, and to save every sorrowful man.” That sounds like what Jesus had in mind when he sent out his disciples to share the overflowing love of the Triune God.
Brigid believed in the power of community to extend the outreaching, overflowing love of Christ. With seven other Christian women, Brigid went to the King of Kildare to request land to build a Christian community. When the king refused, Brigid persuaded him to give her a parcel of land no larger than her cloak could cover. The king agreed. Four women were given the corners of her cloak, and as Brigid prayed, they began to walk. The Lord brought the increase, expanding the cloak until it covered a generous parcel of land, the Curragh of Kildare.
There Brigid and her friends built a large double monastery for women and men. Kildare Abbey was a center for learning, worship, farming, the arts, and, of course, hospitality. In the Spirit of Christ and the tradition of Brehon Law, strangers were welcomed with food, drink, entertainment, and rest. In the sharing of stories, many a visitor came to know the overflowing love of God and was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate that eternal, divine community of perfect love that lives at the heart of the universe. We remember Jesus’s vision of a ministry of overflowing divine love for all nations. Brigid believed that when we go forth in that overflowing love of the Trinity, we become Christ to others and they become Christ to us. Brigid said, “It is in the name of Christ that I feed the poor, for Christ is the body of every poor man.” As we are a blessing to others, they become a blessing to us. This morning, Jesus and Brigid bid us to ponder: How will we go forth to share the overflowing perfect love of the Triune God?
I’ll close with the Irish Rune of Hospitality, attributed to Brigid.
“I saw a stranger yestere’en;
I put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place,
And in the name of the Triune
He blessed myself and my house,
My cattle and my dear ones,
And the lark said in her song
Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise,
Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.”
Daniel Migliore. Faith Seeking Understanding. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.
Leonard Vander Zee. “The Holy Trinity: The Community of Love at the Heart of Reality” in The Banner, Feb. 26, 2016.
Wendy Hopler. “Biography of Brigid of Kildare” in Learn Religions, June 10, 2019. Accessed online at learnreligions.com.
John D. Gee. “5 Lessons from St. Brigid of Kildare” in Patheos: Hosting the Conversation on Faith, Feb. 1, 2021. Accessed online at patheos.com.
Mary Dugan Doss. “A Gift of Hospitality: Saint Brigid, Abbess of Kildare” in Orthodox Christianity, Feb. 1, 2014. Accessed online at orthochristian.com.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”