It was great to gather together for lunch at St Michael’s today and something truly unusually happened for us. We had eaten, washed up and tidied away by two o’clock: usually we would only be sitting down to eat by that time. But even more importantly, it was great to see so many people staying behind eating, chatting and learning new things about each other.
In the very early church Holy Communion was always celebrated as part of a wider meal. The meal or love feast was a sign of sharing one with another and a symbol of real fellowship. It was also a very practical means of meeting the needs of many church members who otherwise would have very little to eat, or perhaps because of their work were unable to eat before the service. It was around such meals that Christians found the support and the encouragement to live out their faith in a world which was hostile and suspicious of followers of Jesus.
Sadly, the love feast soon disappeared and Holy Communion became just another part of the liturgy. You can see some reasons for this if you look at 1 Corinthians. Rather symbolising unity, the meal ended up underlining the inequalities between church members (1 Cor 11:20-21). Church members were inviting judgement upon themselves by failing to recognise others as the body of Christ (1 Cor 11:28-29) and satisfying their own appetites instead (1 Cor 11:33-34)
The idea of a shared meal has never really taken hold in mainline denominations since, although some Christians groups have reintroduced the idea of lovefeasts, and others hold meals with Holy Communion on special occasions (for example, when celebrating the Passover). But it seems to me that so often the simplest ideas are the best, that instead of a great deal of preparation and organisation we simply decide to stay behind and share lunch together. That to me seems a practice well worth re-introducing, to affirm that we belong to one another and are members of one body.
So look out for the next date when we have lunch together and aim to be there! Part of our mission action plan is about being with each other – what better way than to eat together and have fellowship in Christ’s name?