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Does “Coffee and Doughnuts” Cut It?

I want to think out loud about Pat’s reflection this week and talk about meals and Christianity. In modern-day Christianity, “coffee and doughnuts” after mass has become the closest we get to meals. But what lessons can we learn from the early followers of Jesus in the first two hundred and fifty years that we might want to rethink and see how to integrate into our world today? Using the See-Judge-Act method helps us move closer to understanding what the Kingdom of God is all about.

Reflect/See why and how the early practices faded as you read this. Hint: think merger.

In early Christianity, meals were essential for various reasons, including religious rituals and community bonding. The communal aspects of meals played a central role in the life of early Christian communities. Here are some key elements highlighting the importance of meals in early Christianity:

Fellowship and Community Building: See/Observe

  1. Early Christians often gathered in homes for shared meals, fostering a sense of community and belonging.

  2. These meals provided opportunities for conversation, fellowship, and strengthening bonds between members.

  3. Sharing food symbolized unity and equality, breaking down social barriers and creating a sense of family.

  4. Early Christian communities placed a strong emphasis on fellowship and communal living. 

  5. In the early movements, we see the idea of “Chosen Families” emerging and associations with people who shared common ideas and beliefs.

  6. Meals were occasions for believers to come together, share food, and strengthen their sense of community.

  7. The communal aspect of meals helped create a sense of unity among believers, fostering a supportive and caring environment. The sharing of meals reinforced the idea of the Christian community as an extended family.

Hospitality and Care: Think Discernment/Judge

Sharing meals was a way to express hospitality and care for others, especially the poor and marginalized.

  1. This practice exemplified Jesus’ teachings on compassion and love for one’s neighbor. The seriousness of the Sermon on the Mount was practiced in their lives, and meals were a cornerstone.

  2. Early Christians often used meals as opportunities to reach out to the broader community and share the teachings of Jesus and the meaning of the Kingdom of God here and now. 

  3. It is from the early examples of the followers of Jesus that missionaries later in the Middle Ages came to realize that preaching to people on an empty stomach got them nowhere.

Agape Feasts: Act and Participate

The early Christians often participated in “Agape feasts” and communal meals with their worship gatherings.

  1. These gatherings were not only about physical nourishment but also about expressing love and mutual care among believers. They provided an opportunity to share resources and support for those in need within the community.

Symbolism of Equality: Core to Acting

  1. Equality was vital to understanding the teachings of Jesus. Think about how we might have drifted away in our development of Christianity from the realization that we are all equal in the eyes of God. Why? Because we are all made in the image of God. And God is with us.

  2. Meals in early Christianity symbolized equality among believers. In a society marked by various social distinctions, the shared table reflected the Christian belief in the equality of all before God.

  3. The Apostle Paul, in his letters, emphasized the idea that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, enslaved person nor free, male nor female, underlining the inclusive nature of the community.

Remembrance of Jesus’ Teachings:

  1. Meals were occasions for recounting Jesus’ teachings and sharing stories about his life, death, and resurrection. The breaking of bread and sharing wine were acts of remembrance and devotion to Jesus:

  2. The meal served as a foundation for the Eucharist, a core sacrament commemorating Jesus’ sacrifice and fostering spiritual connection.

  3. Meals, shared by Jesus and his disciples, became a central event in understanding what Jesus was trying to get people to understand and how it should develop in our tradition.

Evolution over Time:

  1. It’s important to note that the nature of these meals evolved over time.

  2. Early on in the life of the early followers, meals were often full-fledged communal dinners with a strong emphasis on fellowship and social aspects for protection and support. Meals lasted for hours.

  3. Later, as time developed, especially in the 4th and 5th centuries, the focus shifted towards the Eucharist as a separate sacramental act, with the meal aspect diminishing in some traditions. What role did the empire merging with Christianity play in this new understanding?

In Summary:

Understanding the importance of meals in early Christianity helps us appreciate this practice’s rich social, religious, and symbolic dimensions. It highlights the emphasis on community, hospitality, and spiritual connection that characterized early Christian life.

coffee and doughnuts” are modern events, but does it “cut it”? If we see what the early followers did to build community, we may see a few hints for building the road to the Kingdom of God.

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