by Michael Himik
Last week, I wrote there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to putting Jesus’s teaching into action in the West. Specifically, the elephant is this: God says that to love Him, we must love our neighbors. But loving our neighbors requires real community, and our culture has virtually obliterated real community. All too often, we have few, if any, deep and loving relationships outside of our own “nuclear family.”
So what, as Christians, should we do? It is highly unlikely, and not at all biblical, that God will exempt us from His word simply because our culture has made it difficult to follow His command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is more likely, and entirely biblical, that He expects us to change our culture, and to build real community in His name. But how?
Friends, there is a biblical tool that can be used to build real community – a biblical tool that can build deep and loving relationships among God’s family and welcome others into that family. It is the agape feast practiced by the early church. You can call it a community feast if you like, because that is what these feasts build in God.
What is an agape feast?
Agape (pronounced “ah-gah-pey” or “ah-guh-pey”) is the New Testament Greek word for God’s love. An agape feast is how the early church celebrated God’s love. In fact, it is how the early church celebrated communion. When Jesus said to break bread and to drink “in remembrance of me,” early believers took Him at His word and came together over a shared meal where He was host.
During this shared meal, those following the Way “communed” not only with the Lord, but also with each other in the Lord. The Lord’s Supper was supper – an actual meal that knit the community of believers together in Christ’s love. The early church in Jerusalem even met and ate together daily:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
For the early church, communion meant community. Moreover, all were welcome at Christ’s table. Agape feasts were an opportunity to live out Jesus’s command that
“when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13)
Those with food shared with those without. Those with wealth shared with those who had need. Those in possession of the gospel invited others to hear this good news. The fellowship of believers was real and deep in those days, and earthly distinctions were erased by the Cross.
Just as Jesus promised, when the church did this, it was blessed, “and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” When the church failed to do this, or did it in a way that promoted division rather than community, it was condemned (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
Friends, let’s restore this practice of the early church and reap its blessings. There’s never been a better time for these community feasts – because today, everyone who comes to a community feast shows up in need. Some who come need the food. But all who come need the community.
Despite our material wealth, we are poor in community, poor in relationships, poor in true Christian fellowship. Let’s drop our idolatrous individualism and prideful privacy — and embrace this poverty. Let’s become “poor in spirit” and be blessed. Let’s recognize that others need us and that we need them. Let’s give a feast in Jesus’s name and invite all the poor, including ourselves, to come.
Jesus asks us to love our neighbor. We try, but in our honest moments, we raise our hands in frustration and cry out, “Lord, I don’t know even know my neighbor.” We have let our culture define the way we follow Jesus, rather than letting our walk with Jesus define our culture. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Jesus gave us a way to build real community in Him.
Michael Himick is one of the people working to make Sunday Action happen. He is a publisher, writer, and internet consultant. You can register to attend a community feast right here in Champaign-Urbana at http://www.sundayaction.com. The next Sunday Action feast is December 18.