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Agape Meal

Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 6

Agape Meal
Agape Meal – Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter

Agape Meal – An Excursus

During this Coronovirus-lockdown period, many people are missing the Eucharist. But, there is another sacred meal – maybe God is calling and enabling us to rediscover this?

During this Coronovirus-lockdown period, I have increased the conviction that I have long held – that God is calling us to renew Daily Prayer. It’s great that the Eucharist has become so important on the worship landscape – the Lord’s own service for the Lord’s own people on the Lord’s own day. But, with the Eucharist as the jewel in the crown, we have been neglecting the crown in which that Eucharistic jewel is best held: Daily Prayer.

However, as well as Daily Prayer, there (originally) was another crown in which the jewel of the Eucharist was set: a formal, sacred meal. At this point, we could become distracted debating whether or not Jesus’ last meal was a Passover meal. What we do know, is that it was a formal meal. And, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the followers of Jesus celebrated Jesus’ Person and Life in a formal meal which included bread and wine with thanksgiving.

In time, this formal, sacred meal and the Eucharist were separated. That framing meal is now often referred to as an Agape Meal. You can celebrate an Agape Meal in your household during lockdown (and beyond). Although (just as with the Daily Office/Daily Prayer) there is the connection I’ve described with the Eucharist, there need be (just as with the Daily Office/Daily Prayer) no confusion with the Eucharist, and I suggest that, for the avoidance of all doubt, when you celebrate an Agape Meal you steer clear of appropriating texts from your familiar Eucharistic liturgies.

Because, confusion is not unknown. When I was training for the priesthood at our national Anglican seminary, St John’s College, a group wanted to celebrate a formal Agape Meal. They asked a priest to lead it. And then they used texts from Eucharistic liturgies. At the conclusion, some were overcome with uncertainty – they wondered: had they ended up celebrating a Eucharist? They called people back to reverently consume all the bread and wine. I am suggesting that with a little care, no such confusion ensues.

When you celebrate your formal, Agape Meal, you can include elements of: Psalm(s), Singing, Reading(s), Reflection(s), Silence(s), Prayers (mutual confessing, praise, thanksgiving, intercession), lighting (extinguishing) candles, sharing money with the poor and needy, … a grace before (and after) the meal, and include words (I have adapted) similar to the following:

Over Wine
Blessed are you, Sovereign God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine to gladden the human heart; May we who share this wine abide in Jesus the true Vine. Amen.

Over Bread
Blessed are you, Sovereign God, Ruler of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the ground to nourish us; May we who share this bread be fed by Jesus the Bread of Life. Amen.

To be clear, there is absolutely no reason, either theological or canonical, if this post is followed, why you could not celebrate an Agape Meal in your household – led by (if you feel a leader is needed) anyone either lay or ordained. That may phrase it too negatively. Let me put this positively: you are encouraged to celebrate an Agape Meal. And you can join virtually to other households and do this together (by Zoom or your platform of choice).

St Paul, in 1 Cor 11:20-34 appears to be describing the Eucharist still set within the frame of the Agape Meal (“each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk”). Jude 12 mentions the Agape Meal. Early in the Second Century, Ignatius of Antioch speaks about a formal meal for Christians separate from the Eucharist. I could keep tracing the development, the abuses, and the reducing celebration of the Agape Meal. It did continue in some traditions (India’s Saint Thomas Christians, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and many Coptic Orthodox churches are examples).

Eastern Orthodox practice continues this Early Church tradition. They have what is called the Antidoron (ἀντίδωρον) [also called, ‘eulogiæ’ and ‘prosphora’]. At the Liturgy of Preparation, “the Lamb” is cut from a loaf – this Lamb is what will be consecrated in the Eucharist. After the Eucharist, the bread that remains (antidoron) after the Lamb was removed is given to anyone, both to communicants and to non-communicants.

Various traditions, Brethren, Moravian, and Methodists, have revived the practice of the Agape Meal. Some have used bread and water. There are several hymns associated with the practice, including Charles Wesley’s “The Love-Feast”:

Come and let us sweetly join
Christ to praise in hymns divine;
Give we all, with one accord.
Glory to our common Lord.
Hands and hearts and voices raise;
Sing as in the ancient days;
Antedate the joys above,
Celebrate the feast of love.

Nowadays, refreshments and fellowship following the Eucharist picks up our instinct for elements of the Agape Meal.

In your own celebration of an Agape Meal, you can be creative. For example:

  • Grace for a meal, with prayers over drink and bread
  • Psalm(s)
  • Entree
  • Lighting candle(s) with prayer thanking God for light
  • Reading(s)
  • Main Course with discussion about the Readings
  • Shared faith reflection – what God is doing in my life
  • Prayers
  • Desert
  • Discussion about how much money to give away and to whom [Can do this online]
  • Hymn or song
  • Coffee or Tea

The Episcopal Church has a Blessings over Food at Easter in its The Book of Occasional Services 2018 (page 86). [It has an Agape Meal for Maundy Thursday on page 84]. You are free to use this resource in a household or congregational non-profit context.

Virginia Theological Seminary has produced Agape Meal rites for people in lockdown – including for an individual. And here is their accompanying webinar:

H/T for VTS resource: Rev. Dr Helen Jacobi

Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 1 (3 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 2 (5 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 3 (4 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 4 (4 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 5 (4 minutes reading time)

Some of the other resources and reflections on this site for this Covid19 context:
Holy Saturday in a Covid19 World
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter in a Covid19 World
Coronavirus solitude self-isolation and spirituality
Streaming services, online spiritual resources in coronavirus times
New Zealand Prayer Book Daily Prayer
NZ in lockdown
Covid 19 moves churches into the Third Millennium
Spiritual Communion
Carthusians Covid-19 and Communion
Learning from Hermits in a Covid19 World

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4 thoughts on “Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 6”

  1. Corinna lines

    Thank you for this — it’s what I’ve been looking for, ie something to guide us in what we CAN do in lockdown.

    1. Bosco Peters

      Thanks for the encouragement, Corinna. Yes – good point: many are focusing on what should not be done… Easter Season Blessings.

  2. Dear Bosco. Obviously for Jesus at least, their partaking of the formal meal (Passover/Agape?) was not sufficient for his disciples to understand the soteriological lesson that he was about to deliver – through his enactment of the Eucharist (mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels – but not mentioned in John’s Gospel). The Passover Meal was Jesus’ last participation of the Old Covenant; whereas; the newly redemptive liturgical event took place in the SECOND thanksgiving, which was specifically related to the bread and wine of the New Covenant – the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

    In his Gospel, in the first instance – relating to the Passover meal – Luke tells us that (presumably after the disciples had eaten) Jesus took a cup of wine, gave thanks for it (the festal wine), then said: “Take this and share it among you. I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes”. For Jesus, this was his final celebration of the Passover meal.
    This was not yet, in Luke’s account, a celebration of the Eucharist.

    For Luke; the Eucharist was instituted with the SECOND thanksgiving and distribution of bread and wine, which Jesus declared to be: “The ‘New Covenant (Passover) in My Blood”.

    To confuse the Agape Meal (Passover Meal?) with the Eucharist could, therefore, be a ‘harking back’ to the Old Testament Dispensation. An agape meal is exactly what it says it is: a meal wherein the participants declare their common love of one another – which cannot replace the redemptive quality of the Eucharist.

    1. Thanks, Fr Ron.

      Your comment is deep and dense. There is much in your comment that is widely open for debate, not least your unusual reading of Luke’s account and its interpretation. Whatever people might make of what you write, I want to make three points:

      (1) I think your switching between Agape Meal and Passover Seder, as if they are interchangeable, could give the impression of endorsing a Christian use of the Jewish Seder rite. I have consistently stood with those who call on Christians not to do this. There are formal (Anglican) rites for Agape Meals. As you saw, I drew on and pointed to the Agape Meal rites of The Episcopal Church. There would be no such appropriation of the Jewish Seder.

      (2) Your last paragraph indicates that I could be confusing an Agape Meal with the Eucharist. Nothing is further from the truth! Bishop Peter Carrell wrote about this post, “Thoughtful and helpful! Thank you for clarity of thought and care in distinction between Agape Meal and Eucharistic Feast.”

      (3) So many clergy are telling laity what they cannot do during lockdown. I have been offering what God may be calling us to do whilst in these days. I have focused on renewing the Daily Office. Here, as Corina says above, I have provided “something to guide us in what we CAN do in lockdown”.

      Easter Season Blessings.

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