Saturday, January 10, 2009

Communion: Symbolic Meal or Love Feast?

Almost any church you go to in the western world observes a ritual meal in which token amounts of bread and wine/juice are consumed as a way of remembering Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. Depending on which tradition you belong to the method and explanation of this ritual will vary. but whether brethren or catholic it is still essentially the same idea (at least from the point of view of the meal). Now the first question is how did we get from the early christian practice of a full community meal to this token meal that we now share? Darrell Pursiful writes about this historical movement from full meal to a token symbolic meal here and here. Essentially, for a number of reasons located in particular social, philosophical and political conditions this change took place over the first few centuries of Christianity. But my question for you is, should we change the way we do it now? Would it be a more meaningful act of fellowship to return to sharing a full meal together, rather than just a morsel of bread and a mouthful of juice? Darrell describes one ancient pattern of early christian worship like this:
  • Beginning Prayer (all standing)
  • Meal
  • Hand-washing and lamp-lighting
  • Hymnody (including “table talk” and/or charismatic expressions?)
  • Concluding Prayer
Obviously this was an evening rather than a morning activity (hence the full meal and lighting of lamps). Personally I like the idea of a church meeting where everyone is not thinking about what they will have for lunch afterwards... (or is that just me?) But the real question for me is, as an expression of unity and of Jesus presence with us isn't a full meal both more meaningful and more respectful than the symbolic ritual we currently perform?
  • We would enjoy and savour fellowship rather than just acknowledge it.
  • We could demonstrate concern and hospitality to each other rather than just remind ourselves of our obligation.
  • Praise, teaching and the exercise of gifts would then take place in an atmosphere of family around the table instead of one where only those 'up-front' feel able to contribute.
  • Our remembrance of Christ's death, resurrection, and coming return would not be over and done with in 5 minutes before moving on to more important matters but be the main event.
  • Fellowship with Jesus and each other would be the most signifcant part of the meeting and singing and teaching (wonderful as they are) auxillary to that.
Let me know what you think :)


  1. I think there's a place for both. I think it would do churches, and communities a lot of good to have a communion in the form of a meal, like you describe, probably once a month if not more often.

  2. Since my university days, I have been in full support of communion as a full meal. I know that Russell (the pastor of MWCC) is also - in theory. There have been a couple of times in MWCC's history where we have shared a meal for communion; particularly when teaching about communion.

    The two main things to consider are logistics, and congregation expectation.

    Logistically, this can be difficult to arrange every week; however, if the music and sound and data equipment, and a 40 minute sermon were removed, this would simplify things greatly. Organising a lunch would look trivial in comparison ;)

    The expectation of people walking into the church would be the greatest barrier. People don't want to eat a full meal at the time of normal church services, and there would be a push-back against changing the service times from within the church. But maybe it's the people outside the church that we should be asking. Maybe the 55% of NZers that said Christmas had no religious significance for them need the feeling of community and acceptance that an open, free meal of grace has to offer. Maybe.