I suppose, in a way, I am a professional wedding goer. By that I mean I am often invited to conduct weddings in hotels and other grand venues. Now I am usually there very early to make sure everything is ready for the ceremony. As a result, I get on the chat with the staff. And very quickly I suss out whether their welcome of the arriving wedding party is genuine or a front for the sake of business. Since there is no doubt a genuine welcome is worth its weight in gold no such a special day.
We cannot doubt that most of the crowd that day on the Mount of Olives were honest in their welcome. That is not really in question. But what is – is why their welcome was genuine and to what purpose. Some came because they saw Christ as a political figure – the military messiah long looked for by the Jewish people – the liberator of the land back to the Israel of the Old Testament writers’ imagination. Others more, laudably perhaps, saw a religious reformer bringing justice, honesty even spirituality into moribund even corrupt practice. A practice which, to many, had become a business. However, there would have been a few who welcomed him for himself – they knew him and they loved him for it. He in turn knew them and loved them for themselves.
Well, something in those observations can chime with us today. Since it begs the question – why do we welcome people into our church?
Now let me be the first to say there are many worthy reasons for welcoming new faces to our fellowship. Take for example, the need all humans have to worship God and find a supportive community. We may feel that ‘two or three gathered in my name’ is an insufficient formula for a congregation in Britain today. Similarly, we may worry about the spiritual well-being of someone who does not maintain an active fellowship with Christ through his family.
Yet no matter how important these reasons are – they are trumped by but one other. We welcome them because they are beloved by Christ – Jesus knows them and loves them and they in turn need to know him and find their love for him.
In the word of the famous advert – Simples!!
And how do we know of this love, how do we talk of this love and how do we prove this love?
There is a story about a man who visited a church. He parked his car and started toward the front entrance. Another car pulled up nearby, and the irritated driver said to him, “I always park there. You took my place!” The visitor went inside and found that the service was about to begin. He found a spare seat and sat down. A congregational member approached him and said, “That’s my seat! You took my place!”
He apologies and moved to a vacant pew.
Within moments another member walked up to him and said, “That’s where I always sit. You took my place!”
The visitor was troubled, but said nothing.
Later, as the congregation was praying for Christ to be present with them, the visitor stood, and his appearance began to change. Scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. The marks of the crown of thorns were clearly visible on his forehead. His back started to show scars of a beating. Someone from the congregation noticed him and cried out, “What happened to you?”
The visitor replied, “I took your place.”
In a nutshell – let our welcome be genuine – let us welcome in Christ’s love – let us welcome for Christ’s love. But above all, let us welcome in Christ’s place.