Babette’s Feast is one of my favorite films. Based on the story by Isak Dinesen, the film illustrates the power of sacrificial giving, Christian hospitality, and fellowship around a shared meal.
In the story, a housekeeper to two elderly Danish sisters conceals her past so no one knows that in her previous life she was a world-renowned chef. One day, Babette, the former chef and now penniless housekeeper, wins the lottery and asks the Danish sisters if she can use her new-found fortune to prepare a traditional Parisian feast for them.
The sisters agree, and Babette spends weeks preparing the menu, gathering special ingredients, and having supplies shipped in to their little town. As the various exotic ingredients arrive in crates from faraway locales, anticipation about the meal builds to a fever pitch among the sisters and their friends.
When everything arrives, the meal date is set. All of the food is carefully prepared and expertly served so that the experience of the meal exceeds even the highest expectations of the guests. The skillful preparation, the balance of the ingredients, the careful pairing of the flavors, and the extravagance of the completed ensemble all overwhelm everyone fortunate enough to be at the table. The artistry, love and passion involved in crafting such a meal transform the meal and elevate it into a mystical experience of Christian fellowship.
I had a similar experience last weekend while attending a wedding in Charleston, SC. One of my best friends from college, Jacob, has been working as a chef in Charleston for several years now. So last weekend several of us who were in town for the wedding ate dinner at his restaurant. The Macintosh is a very nice and very popular restaurant, so it didn’t take long for the anticipation of the meal to begin building in my mind. And my high hopes were not disappointed.
From the moment we walked through the door we were treated like royalty. It was obvious that we had been carefully prepared for. The hostesses and wait staff welcomed us like long-expected, honored guests. And once we were settled in around the table our every need was carefully and expertly attended to.
Then the food started appearing, more than we’d ordered and more than we could possibly eat—plate after plate of carefully prepared, exquisitely crafted, delicious food. Appetizers, salads, entrees, side items, vegetables, potatoes, meats and cheeses, there seemed to be no end to the food that kept arriving at our table, each dish seemingly more delicious than the one before. Everything about the meal was absolutely awesome.
The only thing that didn’t appear on our table that night was a bill. Last Friday’s meal was the most overwhelming display of generous hospitality I’ve ever experienced. As Jacob’s guests that evening, we were the recipients of the very best of who he was—not just his food, but his passion, his heart, his hard work, his practiced talent. And you can’t really put a price on that, can you? That’s kind of the point, right?
True hospitality is the offering of our very selves. Those most generous gifts of hospitality can never be repaid.
When Jesus talks about hosting a great banquet (Luke 14) he says we should invite people to our tables who would never be able to repay what we have to offer them.
Christian hospitality is about making people feel special, set apart, chosen and loved. It’s about modeling overwhelming generosity in the same way that Christ’s love is overwhelmingly generous. It’s about exceeding expectations in the same way that God’s grace exceeds our expectations. It’s about giving people more than they could ever repay. It’s about offering without expecting anything in return. It’s about sharing all of your very best with your guests. It is at its very heart, an expression of love.
Something like that happened last Friday at The Macintosh in Charleston, SC. I was fortunate enough to be there, and it was AWESOME. Thanks be to God.