Communal Sacramental Meals
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The Lord's Supper 140

Early Church Service

The Lord's SupperAs Christianity developed, different kinds of communal sacramental meals sometimes call the Eucharist, Lord's Supper, Holy Communion or Mass are also known to have appeared, but how they differed from one another in different places is not at all clear. However, for Christian families participation in these was important according to Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch in "Families in the New Testament World - Households and House Churches."

The Upper Room

The Upper RoomThe Lord's Supper was one important sacrament that was celebrated on the first day of each week. This was in continuity with the Jewish meals of Jesus with his disciples, especially the last supper in the Upper Room before his arrest. Another of the very early sacramental meals was known as the agape feast or love feast, which was a combination of a supper for all to partake in followed by the sacramental Lord's Supper and may originate from the custom called the breaking of the bread in Acts 2.1-2, "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting." The later words in Acts 2.42 add, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." This may or may not be the same as the Holy Communion or Eucharist of today.

Agape Meals

Early Church ServiceThere may be a reference to communal sacramental meals in the Epistle of Jude 1.12 where he writes that inappropriate deeds are "spots on your agapes," but the textual variants make it unclear. When Ignatius stipulates that he thinks every genuine Eucharist should be sanctioned by the bishop, he goes on to add two other events in the same category, baptism and "doing agape."

Ignatius Comments

Many think that in the early years, Eucharist and agape were the same event, but that they became distinct later. If so, they were already different, by the early second century in Antioch and other parts of the province of Asia, where Ignatius (35-108 AD) called "the god-bearer" or "the fire-bearer" was writing. Ignatius was an Apostolic Father, student of John the Apostle and the third bishop of Antioch. He wrote a series of letters which were preserved on ecclesiology (study of the church), the sacraments, and the role of bishops. In Rome he was martyred by being fed to wild beasts.

"Communal Sacramental Meals"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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