Agape, A Love-Feast

In seminary I attended Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. I went there because of their reputation as a leading church for social justice (they still are) and to hear the thoughtful preaching of the Rev. Howard Moody. There were many parts of the church that surprised me—pre-church coffee in the sanctuary, the diversity of the congregation, the music that ranged from show tunes to old gospel numbers—but nothing was more unexpected that finding the sanctuary set for a meal on a Sunday morning.

The first Sunday of each month the members of Judson set up tables in their sanctuary and eat together. This is their form of communion. I was just getting used to the idea that a church could exist without pews—like us, they have movable chairs as in our sanctuary. They moved their chairs a lot so it made it almost impossible to have an assigned seat each week. But to set the chairs around tables and actually eat the Lord’s Supper—unheard of, for me.

Judson is not alone is serving an Agape Meal for Sunday communion. It may actually be the oldest form of Christian worship. The first followers of The Way met in their homes to share a meal, as Jesus did at the last supper, and to remember the stories about his life and resurrection. This meal eventually morphed into the symbolic meal we eat at communion.

The Protestant reformation saw several groups attempt to revive the Agape meal as a part of their spiritual practices. In most groups the love feast is a meal that is enjoyed outside of formal worship. To actually move the meal into the sanctuary and shape worship around it is an unusual practice, but carries the potential to make the Eucharist a more powerful engagement with the words and practices of Jesus.

Our church has held an Agape meal during worship several times during our Summer Sundays. The Deacons have wanted to make this service available to more of our members and so we will hold an Agape meal during worship on May 6. We are fortunate that the designers of our sanctuary provided flexible seating to make it possible to have innovative worship services.

We do not hold such a service just to be different. We do it so that the rituals of our faith may come alive from experiencing them in new ways. I would also hope that by eating together in worship we may affirm God’s peaceable kingdom where all our equal. May we then find that our meals are transformed into an act of worship—giving thanks to God for our blessing of the good earth and dedicating ourselves to insuring that everyone may partake of God’s wonderful bounty.

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