The Love Feast

By Cynthia Wilson

Stock hands praying over open bible

The United Methodist church has been debating online Communion for years. Many have said it shouldn’t happen because the embodiment of the sacrament and physical presence of the community of faith are essential elements. Others disagree and want the sacrament to be as open and accessible as possible. Remembering that Wesley preached that Communion is a saving sacrament and not simply a sustaining one, they argue that it should be offered in as many places and forms as possible.

We can’t presume to give an answer for all time. But it seems that right now, since the body is prevented from meeting together, we need some sort of resolution. We at Discipleship Ministries are suggesting that we begin with the Love Feast.


Time of Centering

Greeting

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we have all come to this place frail and broken. In a world of violence, hate, greed, and isolation, in a church searching to find the way forward, we look for healing through this restorative service of old. It is in this Agape Feast where adversaries become friends, friends become neighbors, and the Christian family embraces all. Let us join in song before we share the blessings of food and water, just as the first Christians did in ancient times.

The history of the feast, as a celebration born simply out of love, generosity, and fellowship is beautiful. Christians today must be grateful for the resurrection of the celebration by the Moravians, and also for the vitality given to it by Charles Wesley! The feast is appropriate in any Christian setting and can nourish the hearts and souls of Christians in so many ways. At its most basic, the love feast is an experience of warmth and sharing, a commemoration of the early church. At its most symbolic, the love feast is a means of God’s grace that is experienced in the fellowship with each other and with God. But the simplest explanation of the love feast, to which one can respond when asked, is that it is a way to remember Christ’s presence on earth, and to celebrate with gratitude the spirit of God’s love.

Opening Hymn

What Feast of Love Upper Room Worship Book #119
Text: Delores Dufner, OSB Tune: Greensleeves)

Verse 1
What feast of love is offered here; what banquet come from heaven?
What food of everlasting life, what gracious gift is given?
This, this is Christ the King, the bread come down from heaven,
O taste and see and sing! How sweet the manna given!

Verse 2
What light of truth is offered here, what covenant from heaven?
What hope of everlasting life, what wondrous word is given?
This, This is Christ the King, the sun come down from heaven.
O see and hear and sing! The Word of God is given!

Verse 3
What wine of love is offered here, what crimson drink from heaven?
What hope of everlasting life, what wondrous word is given?
This, this is Christ the king, the sweetest wine of heaven.
O taste and see and sing! The Son of God is given!

Opening Prayer (All)

We thank you, O God, for the life and knowledge which you have revealed through Jesus, your child and our brother. To you be glory forever.

As the piece of bread was scattered over the hills and then brought together and made one, so, let your church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your kindom.

For yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever. AMEN.

Scripture Readings (NRSV)

Galatians 3: 26-29
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Ephesians 4: 1-6 (Unity in the Body of Christ)
1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling
to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness,
with patience, bearing with one another in love,
3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all,
who is above all and through all and in all.

Meditation

Response

We Are One In The Spirit The Faith We Sing #2223

The Agape Feast

Here before us, you will find some water and bread.
It is important to know that this feast is not a Eucharistic feast,
but one of love and fellowship.
Let us commemorate our unity through Christ, and feast on the spirit of love who is Christ.

The Blessing

Song of Sending - I Need You to Survive Zion Still Sings #219

Verse 1
I need you, you need me, we're all a part of God's body.
Stand with me, agree with me, we're all a part of God's body.
It is God’s will that every need be supplied;
You are important to me, I need you to survive,
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

Verse 2
I pray for you, you pray for me, I love you,
I need you to survive.
I won't harm you with words from my mouth,
I love you,
I need you to survive. (repeat)

It is God’s will that every need be supplied;
You are important to me, I need you to survive,
You are important to me, I need you to survive.


Opening Prayer taken from the Didache. (found in The Love Feast, by Richard Stowe).
This service is designed by Dr. Cynthia A. Wilson (2018).

A Maundy Thursday Handwashing and Table Service

Handwashing is an ancient human gesture embedded in daily practice. It can now be a matter of life and death during a time of contagion. We need literal as well as spiritual cleansing in these times. Holy Week scriptures offer us a story of compulsive washing and a narrative of compassionate cleansing. Pilate, politician of an empire, publicly washes his hands, attempting to shed his responsibility for protecting the innocent. He attempts to wash his hands of the whole affair. In contrast, Jesus in the privacy of a home, takes a towel and washes the feet of his friends. That washing immerses them in his ministry, cleanses and empowers them to “do this” for others in memory of him.

These two stories of washings invite us to baptismal renewal in this week and lead us to a Table. Jesus gathers his friends for a meal when life as they know it is ending. That Supper is a meal of memory and hope: the people pass over, from death to life, from slavery to a promise of freedom. It is a meal of wonderous love and amazing grace, first offered in a home and then as the church expanded, in sanctuaries. This can be a time to return to home as a sanctuary again.

There is a tradition of handwashing in preparation for sharing in a sacred meal. Psalm 26 was once used sung by those who gathered in Jerusalem. Centuries later it was recited by priests preparing to preside in the sacrament of the bread of life. They would pray these words in silence while preparing by washing their hands:

I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds. O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides. Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty, those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. - Psalm 26: 6-10

These ancient words include the washing, the coming to the altar, songs of praise, and testimonies to God’s redemptive work. There is a plea for personal safety and a fierce call for justice, all connected to washing and the sacrament of holy communion.

There is also another Table, the Love Feast, where Christians have gathered to celebrate the presence of Jesus, our brother, savior, friend in testimony, song, and praise. A Love Feast traditionally includes a foot washing (hand washing in this service), the greeting of peace; confession of sin, expressions of faith, and praise through songs and testimony.

This service of washing and the Table offer us hospitality and reconciliation with God and with each other. A Love Feast can deepen our understanding of Holy Communion if the choice is to “fast” until the community can gather together again. United Methodists pastors should take this opportunity to share This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion with their congregations. If we cannot gather to celebrate Holy Communion in sanctuaries as in the past, this table service offers washing and a sacred meal at home.

However, sharing on-line communion in homes with a pastor/presider could also be our Wesleyan heritage, particularly given the development of the itineracy as pastoral care in times of great need. Pastors need to keep informed to what their bishop is advising, especially as some bishops have revised their request for a moratorium. The bishops in the Western Jurisdiction write: “Especially in this time of physical separation from one another, Holy Communion can be a conduit of God’s healing power. We remain open to what God is teaching us in this moment. We believe in the importance of being community, present together at the Table of our Lord, repentant of our sin and seeking to live in peace with one another.” See: http://www.calpacumc.org/news/western-jurisdiction-bishops-offer-guidance-for-the-observance-of-holy-communion.

There are conduits and channels of grace through live-streaming, Zoom, or phone. Printed materials for this service can be mailed or emailed to members. One essential reminder for any service at home at this time: one person can be a household, sheltering in place. Some liturgical settings are suggested, but a kitchen sink, a candle, towel, table, water, oil, and food are the only things required. This service is designed to be a spiritual exercise for one individual, or two or three gathered together, as well as a pastor connected to others via digital means.

MAUNDY THURSDAY HANDWASHING AND TABLE

Begin the service by lighting candles as the words are read.

L: Blessed are you Holy One, our God, Creator of the universe.
You form light and create darkness, make peace, and give life to all things. Isaiah 45:7

WORDS OF WELCOME (THOSE AT HOME OR/AND ON-LINE)

SONG OR READING

PRAYER FOR PURITY

“Almighty God,
to you all hearts are open, all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hidden
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
that we may perfectly love you
and worthily magnify your name,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

SILENT REFLECTION

SONG OF ASSURANCE OF GOD’S LOVE

PILATE’S BASIN

This could be an antique pitcher with basin on a small table or a pitcher at the kitchen sink. The water is warm. There is scented soap with good hand towels, one for each participant. The server/presider says, “Remember, you cannot wash away your sins.” One person then pours the water as each person in turn washes their hands. The Doxology or a song of praise can be sung during the washing and drying of hands.

BAPTISMAL RENEWAL BASIN

After the first person has washed their hands, they move to another pitcher and bowl at one end of the dining table or at a small separate table. The pitcher/container could be clear glass and hold anointing oil or plain olive oil. The server/presider says, “Remember, you are baptized in Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit.” As the oil is poured into each person’s palms held over the basin, they can touch the oil to their own forehead, their heart, or rub it into their hands as they say, “Thanks be to God”.

THE SERVANT’S BASIN

The third pitcher and bowl should be well-used, and the towels could be kitchen towels, one for each person. The water in this pitcher is cold. The server/presider pours water into the open hands and says, “Do this in memory of the One who did this for you.” The response is, “I will remember.” Each person takes their hand towel to the Table and are invited to keep the towel as a symbol of service during this season.

It is at this point, the on-line presider/pastor can begin the Great Thanksgiving, leading the prayers while people at home are sitting at table with individual cups and bread. It is suggested that the Epiclesis, prayer for the Spirit be read in union. It is the prayer of the community; its language is plural, and it binds the whole body of Christ into service.

L: Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.

Unison: Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.

By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory,
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

If the Table is a Love Feast celebrating Christ and the priesthood of all believers, the food to be shared can be what the community finds comforting. Preparations can include sharing recipes and stories about what makes them feel cared for. Favorite table graces can be shared. A reading from scripture or the Covenant Service can be done before eating. Invite those present to respond to the question: “What does it mean to me to serve Christ?”

Christ has many services to be done.
Some are more easy and honorable,
others are more difficult and disgraceful.
Some are suitable to our inclination and interests,
others are contrary to both.
In some we may please Christ and please ourselves.
But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ
except by denying ourselves.
It is necessary, therefore,
that we consider what it means to be servant of Christ.[1]

The poem “Directions for Using a Towel” can be used as mediation on the meaning of the towels or as a closing reading before the benediction.

DIRECTIONS FOR USING A TOWEL

To be used for:
Drying dishes.
Wiping eyes.
Mopping spilled milk.
Coping with sighs.
Cleaning stains.
Creating scandal.
Holding on when it’s too hot to handle.

Washing feet.
Softening jars.
Binding wounds in a world of scars.

Better than Bounty, thin as skin.
Don’t give it up, or throw it in;
It simply grows more holy over time.

For when the One
that death could not defeat
arrives,
the towel will be our sign.
All grave and dusty sins are washed away.
God takes us by the hand and helps us rise.[2]

TABLE FELLOWSHIP

BLESSING


[1] Wesley Covenant Prayer adapted by Heather Murray Elkins ©2002 The Holy Stuff of Life, all rights reserved.

[2] Ibid.


Additional resources from the Order of Saint Luke:

“A Liturgy for When We Cannot Meet”


Marcia McFee has posted a free alternate liturgy for those who want to do something online around the sharing of a meal. It’s called “Comfort Food” and includes a free downloadable liturgy and an opportunity to sign up for a webinar on Tuesday, March 24. Check her out on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marcia.mcfee

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