Bringing Home the Hospitality of Bethany
In my kitchen, on a painted chalkboard wall high above the counter there is a quote: “Welcome all as Christ”. I wrote it high up on the chalkboard eight years ago when we bought this house—a charming little Cape set on a 5-acre hillside among the rural New Hampshire forest. I remember stepping carefully up on a stool and holding my pregnant belly, focused on making the letters even and straight because they were so important (and because I am very bad at writing on vertical surfaces). While this wasn’t our first home together, this was mine and my husband’s first owned house, and we were dedicated to welcoming others to it in Christian hospitality. Every time I pass that chalkboard, I can’t help but think of the many saints that inspired me to inscribe it on our wall.
First, there is St. Benedict. “Welcome all as Christ” is an excerpt from the 53rd chapter of the rule of life for his monastic community—he took seriously Jesus’ statement in Matthew that Christians should feed and clothe and house the needy. We wanted to do the same.
Then, there are some living saints. During my time as a college campus minister, my husband and I had the great honor of getting to know the caretakers at Bethlehem Farm in Talcott, West Virginia. Like many intentional Christian communities, the folks at Bethlehem Farm (and their sister communities named after other Biblical towns) order their lives around cornerstones of prayer, service, simplicity, and community. Having been spiritually nourished by visits to “B-Farm”, we wanted our small farm to have a similar feel.
Then there are Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, who we celebrate today. These three siblings have occupied a place of honor in the Church since they welcomed Jesus into their home in Bethany, offering him deep hospitality, friendship, and love. Lazarus was the friend whose death Jesus wept over, and the one he raised from the dead. Mary and Martha—apart from being pitted against each other in too many not-so-great sermons and reflections—were two of the myrrh-bearing women who went to anoint Jesus’ body after the Crucifixion. Aside from the Twelve, these three siblings were some of Jesus’s closest friends. Their hospitality, their willingness to learn from Jesus, their loyalty and love, and their witness to resurrection, all came from these siblings of Bethany.
A year or so after I balanced on that stool and wrote those words on the chalkboard, my husband and I took stock. We looked back on the first years of our marriage and noticed key themes: love and friendship of course, but also forgiveness, a dedication to welcoming others, and years of unanticipated suffering paired with continuous, surprising resurrections of every sort. Our little farm was still unnamed, and it became obvious that only one name would honor all these saints who had so impacted our lives. We named it “Bethany Farm”, to join in Bethlehem Farm’s tradition of naming their communities after Biblical locations, and to honor these siblings of Bethany. If you find yourself in the rural woods of New Hampshire sometime, come on by! I can’t promise it’ll be perfect, but we will try to welcome you as Martha, Mary, and Lazarus would welcome Christ.