Behind the scenes at St. Paul, on Maundy Thursday: tonight we’re having an Agape meal before the Maundy Thursday worship service. It’s a simple meal, fruit, unleavened bread, grapes, wine. It’s meant to help us remember the roots of Christian liturgy, especially holy communion, in Jewish liturgical practice. The custom of having an Agape meal has been around for some time in Christian churches, and we do a very simple form of it. I learned about it in high school, when the church I attended began holding small prayer circles in members’ homes. Occasionally we would share a simple meal together, of bread and fruit, and our youth leader referred to it as an Agape Feast. I read up on it, interested in the word “agape,” and discovered that C.S. Lewis had written about this form of love in his book “The Four Loves.” Much later, during Holy Week, in a church I attended in Baltimore, we participated in an Agape meal before going to Maundy Thursday worship. That church, like ours, had an Undercroft, and while the meal was slightly more elaborate than ours–their meal included soup–we enjoyed the fellowship before hand, as a kind of doorway into the Three days.
The history of the agape meal begins in scripture, with references to it in I Corinthians. Agape is a form of God’s love–a Greek word signifying divine love, a compassionate love, different from love of family, friendship or erotic love. You could call it “disinterested” love, a kind of love that is rooted in freedom from attachment, and not in the bonds of mutual obligation that arise in kinship or friendship. In this kind of love, the good of the other person is foremost. Agape is often translated as “charity.” An Agape meal was sometimes served in tandem with, either before, or after, the Lord’s Supper. And everyone was invited to eat, strangers and friends, poor and wealthy. The practice was revived in the 20th century with the liturgical renewal movement, especially as part of Holy Week. If you are interested in such things, I can tell you more, but you can also google “agape meal,” and lots of links will come up. My use of it was shaped by my own experience of it as part of this week’s observances, and I learned that from good liturgical teachers in our Lutheran tradition, as well as Episcopal, and Moravian traditions, with whom we are full communion partners.
Here are the scriptures for Maundy Thursday.
If you can’t make it to the service tonight, please know that we are in communion with you, wherever you are, as sisters and brothers in Christ, sharing the same Spirit.
March 28, 2013
Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 (13)
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Prayer of the Day
Holy God, source of all love, on the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another as he loves us. Write this commandment in our hearts, and give us the will to serve others as he was the servant of all, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Eternal God, in the sharing of a meal your Son established a new covenant for all people, and in the washing of feet he showed us the dignity of service. Grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit these signs of our life in faith may speak again to our hearts, feed our spirits, and refresh our bodies, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
I give you a | new commandment,
that you love one another just as I | have loved you. (John 13:34)