Susquehanna Morning

Susquehanna Morning

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Lent 9: On Hospitality. And Laughter

"Three Figures Announce to Abraham the Birth of Isaac " by Alexander Ivanov (early 19th c.)

It's like a dream.

It's a warm day, by the oaks of Mamre. As the heat rises from the ground, Abraham takes shelter at the entrance to his tent.

He is neither in nor out, but he is at the threshold. He is in a liminal space, a space where anything is possible, anything might happen, all possible futures still stand open. He is not what or who he will be; nor is he who he has been.

In the heat of the day, three figures arrive.

Abraham receives them as royalty. He invites them to rest under a tree, to take some water to wash their feet (and, presumably, to drink), and to rest while he brings them "some bread." (Actually, while Sarah prepares a feast.)

This is biblical hospitality. This is how you are supposed to receive anyone-- anyone-- who shows up at your dwelling. In a climate where it is often too hot and there is usually a real hunt for water, knee-jerk hospitality is a strict part of the social compact. Anyone could die out there; next time, it could be you.

So, this is how you receive guests. This is all exactly the way it should be.

After serving the bread and some yogurt and the calf Abraham has slaughtered and Sarah has prepared, Abraham stands under the tree near his guests while they eat.

It has to have been hours since they arrived. Abraham slaughtered a calf and Sarah cooked it.

It starts to get weird when the conversation begins.

Where's Sarah, your wife? they ask.

She's inside...

Then one of them says,

“I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him...  ~ Genesis 18:10

It is like a dream. 

Sarah is standing at the entrance of the tent.

She is neither in nor out, but she is at the threshold. She is in a liminal space, a space where anything is possible, anything might happen, all possible futures still stand open. She is not what or who she will be; nor is she who she has been.

In the midst of the dreamy scene, the alert biblical reader notices some seams in the story; we are told something we already know, as if we don't know it. 

Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  ~ Genesis 18:11

And Sarah cackles to herself, at the thought that she might know the pleasure of sex again.

Sarah laughs.

And now the dreaminess returns... because, suddenly, it's not "three men," but "the LORD," who calls Sarah out on her laughter.

(Abraham laughed too. No one called him out on it. Just saying.)

Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? I/ We will be back this time next year, and there will be a bouncing baby boy for you two crazy kids.

And the scene ends on a repeat and fade.

"I didn't laugh."

"Yes, you did."

"Did not."

"Did too."

And, scene.

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