Why is this morning different from all other services? Why is eating a central part of what we’re doing here? Why couldn’t we just have a pot-luck or fellowship meal after church like we do every month?
Today we specifically remember the meal that Jesus ate with his disciples on the night before his death. We also celebrate the community created during Christ’s life and after his resurrection through the church.
In Peter 2:10 we read: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection he has created a new community . Through our baptism we have passed from death into life and have become part of that community.
Where did this ritual come from? It’s not something we usually do.
You’re right. We don’t practice the love feast or ‘agape meal’ in the Mennonite church. It is much more commonplace in Brethren worship – another Anabaptist tradition. In fact, in that denomination it is a defining practice – something that makes them distinct. It was practiced in the early church, before the church became more institutionalized, when people met more often in homes. Of course, originally it comes from the story of Jesus with his disciples at the last supper before he was taken by the authorities to the killed. We heard that story from Matthew earlier in the service.
Then, how is this different from communion? Does is have to do with what is served? We celebrate that with just bread and wine or juice? Here there are other kinds of food.
There are more kinds of food here that in communion. Like communion, we remember the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples. And like communion, this meal is largely symbolic. In the full expression of the Love Feast, practitioners would include a communion service as part of the ritual – using the specific elements of bread and wine and saying the words of institution like we would any time we celebrate communion together.
When we eat together like we do today we nourish our bodies and we nurture our relationships. In this meal we can give a different and fuller expression of that than in communion, in which we often focus just on the sacrifice of Christ and on our relationship with him.
So this is more about community togetherness?
Very much so. It brings the kind of fellowship that we often have in potluck meals into the context of worship. But it’s much more than that. One Brethren theologian talks about it like this:
“The meaning of the Love Feast as a whole is in this interrelationship between our religious experience and our social relationships, between the power of God and our human needs. It symbolizes our faith with its vertical dimensions toward God and its horizontal dimensions toward [people].”
We also remember the early church and some of our Anabaptist forbears who shared more than just food, but held all things in common. In fact can you read some verses from Acts that describe a bit about that community?
Acts 2:42 – 3:1 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
That community shared what it had with each other and worshiped together. It was a very joyful and generous time. We can recognize what we have, and share it with our neighbours and the ones who have less. In some ways, the meal that will take place in the Adult Study Room here tonight and every Sunday – the community meal with our neighbours on the street – is a truer expression of remembering Christ through breaking bread than what we are doing here this morning.
An additional piece of symbolism is that by sharing a meal together, we also look forward to the end of time when we will share this meal with Christ and the “cloud of witnesses,” or many of the people of faith who have come before us, witnesses from all ages. Then there will be no hunger, no pain, no death and Christ will wipe the tears from our eyes. Biblically, heaven is imagined as a great banquet. Even strangers and aliens and sojourners will be welcome at that wonderful feast.
I know that this is called a love feast, but this couldn’t really be called a feast or a banquet. It’s pretty basic, simple food.
Eating together is rich with the symbolism that I’ve just talked about. We keep the food simple so that our minds can focus on that rather than on the food itself. We share in love and fellowship just as Jesus shared with his disciples. In some ways this should be like every fellowship meal we eat together; we should always be remembering Jesus as we share food together with our brothers and sisters.
Usually when we eat together, we only offer a prayer to thank God for the food or sing a grace. We didn’t do that this time.
That’s true. There was no grace, per se. What we did differently was have a time of confession and self examination. We did that in the litany in which we asked ‘Is it I?’ reflecting the words of the disciples to Jesus when he recognized betrayal among them. The meal that we share this morning is held in honour of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a celebration of the gathered community, so we need to examine our hearts to make sure we are in proper relationship with God and our brothers and sisters. If those relationships are broke, it is time to repair them.
Paul warned us not to eat this meal in an unworthy manner. He said we would bring judgment upon ourselves if we did. Our eating together is an act of worship. Jesus says that we must be in right relationship with one another before we can offer our worship to God. Can you read what Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24…
Matthew 5:23-24 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
In the Brethren tradition, which still practices the Agape Meal as a regular practice once or twice a year, elders used to visit the homes of church members asking three questions:
- Are you still in the faith of the gospel that you declared on your baptism
- Are you, as far as you know, in peace and union with the church?
- Will you still labour with the Brethren for an increase of holiness both in yourself and in others?
We don’t make visits like these and even the Brethren don’t use this practice any more. But our relationships with each other are important.
We read a Litany of Confession and Preparation earlier that allowed us an opportunity to reflect on our own failings. And yet, we can also be assured that Jesus will always welcome us into his presence, even to eat with us. We offer this same hospitality to those in our midst with whom we have brokenness. Jesus ate with Judas and with Peter, who betrayed and denied him. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. After his resurrection, Jesus walked and ate with two of his disciples who did not recognize him. When we sit together and eat with people that we disagree with, we share at a basic level.
Does anyone practice this ritual in different ways? We practice communion in different ways on different occasions and different church have different traditions. Would this be kind of the same?
There are not a lot of churches that regularly practice the love feast, although it is being revived somewhat – even beyond Anabaptist traditions. Traditionally, there are two things that we’re not including this morning. We’re only doing a shorted confession time and the actual meal part of the love feast, but the whole practice from beginning to end would also include the actual communion rite and the practice of footwashing. We decided to divide up the practices.
Next week in worship we will complete our series on Anabaptist worship by practicing footwashing together. Footwashing carries some of the same meaning as love feast, which is why it is often practiced in the same service.
Who can join the ‘feast’?
Traditionally , Love Feast has only been open to those who were baptized members of the congregation. Today all are welcome. This is a meal to celebrate Jesus’ invitation to the table, to remember the meals that Jesus at with friends and strangers, to reflect on Jesus’ life of teaching and service, his death at the hands of power and his living presence in our midst. Today we join together in joyful community.
We will gather in four groups around the meals that are laid before us. There is one table laid for any who are unable to sit or kneel on the floor. Otherwise, we will roughly divide based on the middle section and the two sides. Another important practice of the shared meal, is the shared clearing of the ‘table’ and clean-up of the space and eating vessels. We will all participate in this part as well when worship is finished. For now, let’s continue with worship through song…