I think this is why this chapter (Hebrews 13) opens in an unusual way.
1. Love the Family: Community
Hebrews 13:1 Keep on loving each other as brothers.
The opening words of this collection of closing instructions is directed towards the community. For the foundation of all that follows is a loving community of brothers and sisters.
2. Love the Stranger: Hospitality
Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Christian love should never be confined to the brothers and sisters of the family it must extend to the stranger.
Love the Christian family, but don’t forget the stranger. Don’t forget the stranger…the outsider. For in so doing we double their exclusion.
It is why also the writer of Hebrews earlier in 10:35 encourages his readers not to give up meeting together, and in particular celebrating communion or eucharist or breaking bread, It is why communion is central to our faith. By means of simple bread and wine we are invited to come to the table of the Lord to share the food he provides. But then we are sent from that table to perform that same act in practice in our neighbourhoods.
Communion is an act of hospitality which we are required to re-perform in the streets around us in our neighbourhoods.
And we welcome the stranger in the confident expectation that they will be a gift of God to us.
What does entertaining angels mean? Well I’m not sure. But surely it means at least this, that as we reach out to the stranger outside, as we welcome them inside, we may find in so doing that we are in effect welcoming an angel inside. That in acting like Jesus, reaching out to those who have been exiled from their home and bringing them near, by stepping outside the walls we have built round ourselves and our families and our churches, going outside where the crucified are, we find that Jesus is already there before us. Crucified along with them and for them. And in acting as he did we meet him in them.
We meet angels and are blessed
Today we have heard powerful stories of those who are more accustomed to the outside, literally and metaphorically and we are struck profoundly by how different their story is from ours. How ‘other’ they are. And we fear that too much of our energy and creativity, our resources and our interest is taken up with keeping on the inside, and even keeping ‘them’ out. And we don’t know how to change that situation even if we wanted to.
Before us however is the example of Jesus himself. Who stepped outside to bring us in. And year after year the sacrament of communion is performed and we experience repeatedly the hospitality of God extended to us who were outside and now have been brought into the Kingdom of God.
By his example and by the profound personal experience of the Father’s hospitality extended to the outsider, may we find the courage and boldness to be like Jesus to those who find themselves outside today.