Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47
The New Testament provides many accounts of meals, particularly those that involved Jesus and the disciples. We’re not sure of the details of those meals, but we do know that the Apostle Paul provides several accounts of the early Church gathering for meals, often referred to as agape meals. These were meals served in the homes where early Christians gathered to hear stories about Jesus and read the memoirs of the Apostles. They sang psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
These meals were truly agape – or love – meals where everyone, regardless of social status, ethnicity, wealth or gender, ate together. Rich and poor, slave and free, men and women breaking bread together in a meal was unheard of in the early centuries of the Church, and Christians were soundly criticized because of it.
In the gatherings, these meals preceded the worship time of the believers, which always ended with Communion. But, as Christianity became legal, and moved out of the homes into the public square, the agape meals died out. This was also the time when believers stopped referring to each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, bishops became rulers, and worship changed from simple and intimate to structured and formal.
In 1727, the agape meal was rekindled in Germany by those who wanted to recapture the spirit of the early Church, and referred to the meal as a “meal of love”, or love feast. The practice was included in the worship gathering – a simple meal, worship (which involved testimonies, singing, and scripture), and the Lord’s Supper.
Love feasts were brought to America by the Moravians, or Church of the Brethren. The Moravians settled in Pennsylvania, then North Carolina, in the Winston-Salem area. It was very much a part of their church practice and is a tradition that continues today, not only in the Moravian Church, but others, as well.
As we at 3BC celebrate a Christmas Love Feast this December, let’s do so because of its meaning and symbolism. The sweet bun and hot cider served to everyone during the celebration are symbolic of the sharing of a meal. Everyone, regardless of social, economic, or spiritual status is welcome to eat. And, in doing so, not only are you served, but you serve your neighbor in the pew, as well. This is a small picture of God’s Kingdom. As Jesus ate with sinners and Pharisees, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, slave and free, he broke the barriers and demonstrated the Kingdom of God on earth.
Regardless of who we are, or what we believe, the one thing required in a Christmas love feast is love. We celebrate the love of God for us in the incarnation of His only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. The love feast is a reminder to us, as Christians, to extend this love to everyone around us.