Changing Our Diet: Consuming Love

Christians regularly met “on a stated day” in the early morning to “address a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity” and later in the day would “reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal”.
—Pliny the Younger

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
—1 John 4:7

When I lived in the UK, one of my favorite experiences was the set menu. Frequently, when arriving at a restaurant or pub for a meal, there would be a chalkboard out front stating the prices of the set menu. For instance, one of my favorite places to eat would offer a starter, entrée, and dessert for about $8. For each of those courses, I would choose from just a few options, e.g., one of two soups or a salad for the starter, a puff pastry and plowman sandwich for the main course, etc. By restricting the options, the restaurant could better reduce and predict its costs. In addition, as a customer, I was able to have a hot, freshly cooked, quick meal at a reasonable price. From my experience, a limited menu had its benefits.

This week, on the chapel’s menu, we are offering a set menu, too. The only option will be a multicourse menu of love. Setting aside time to consume love reminds me of the short ditty offered to us from those Saturday morning oracles of my childhood, “Schoolhouse Rock.” In particular, I have in mind the phrase “you are what you eat, from your head down to your feet.” Sage and perceptive advice understood by the early church millennia before. Yet, rather than consuming fruits and vegetables while avoiding covering them with “goop,” the early church encouraged its members to consume love by sharing in a weekly love feast or agape.

By consuming love, we become what we eat, replacing who we were in our misbalanced love—i.e., sin—with who we are created to be in the image of a God who is love. Historically, Christian theology, according to Delwin Brown, classified sin into two categories: pride and sensuality. Classically, the word “pride” was used in a way that we tend not to use it today. This classic notion of pride, as Brown describes it, “is excessive self-regard, not adhering to appropriate limits, taking for oneself more than that to which one is entitled.” Today, we might use the word “arrogance” instead. In other words and recalling the story of the fall, pride is trying to act more like the Creator than one of the creations. Conversely, sensuality is not a disparaging of our physicality but a way of articulating an excessive focus on our physical needs and wants. In the classical concept, sensuality was associated with the lower self, our physical being. Notwithstanding some of the potential problems with such a division of the self, placing this notion in this classical context proves helpful because it explains how sensuality is but sin to another extreme. Therefore, if pride is our trying to be more than human, then sensuality describes our being less than human, failing to embrace our responsibilities and rise above our “mere” passions. In summary, Brown says, “sin is disproportionate love, love that is out of balance—excessive or deficient love.” By saying that sin has a two-fold character, we are saying that the sin of pride is loving ourselves too much and the sin of sensuality is not loving ourselves enough.

A balanced love embraces God, creation, community, self, etc. appropriately. Now, establishing what is “appropriate” is the challenge. For the early church, one way to do attempt to establish appropriately balanced love was by regularly coming together in mutual love and care for each other and their God. Retaining that tradition, we will gather in the chapel on Wednesday at 7pm to share in a Love Feast, endeavoring to consume a balance diet of love. Everyone is welcome to this meal of prayer, praise, reflection, and remembrance. As meal prep, I have included an excerpt from The United Methodist Book of Worship detailing the history and elements of the service:

The Love Feast, or Agape Meal, is a Christian fellowship meal recalling the meals Jesus shared with disciples during his ministry and expressing the koinonia (community, sharing, fellowship) enjoyed by the family of Christ.

Although its origins in the early church are closely interconnected with the origins of the Lord’s Supper, the two services became quite distinct and should not be confused with each other. While the Lord’s Supper has been practically universal among Christians throughout church history, the Love Feast has appeared only at certain times and among certain denominations.

The modern history of the Love Feast began when Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians in Germany introduced a service of sharing food, prayer, religious conversation, and hymns in 1727. John Wesley first experienced it among the Moravians in Savannah, Georgia, ten years later. His diary notes: “After evening prayer, we joined the Germans in one of their love-feast. It was begun and ended with thanksgivings and prayer, and celebrations in so decent and solemn a manner as a Christian of the apostolic age would have allowed to be worth of Christ.”

It quickly became a feature of the Evangelical Revival and a regular part of Methodist society meetings in Great Britain and throughout the English-speaking world. As Methodist immigrated to North America they made Love Feasts an important part of early American Methodism.

While Love Feasts became less frequent in the years that followed, they continued to be held in some places; and in recent years the Love Feast has been revived. Love Feasts have often been held at Annual Conferences and Charge Conferences, where persons may report on what God has been doing in their lives and on the hope and trust they place in God of the future. . . .

The Love Feast has often been held on occasions when the celebration of the Lord’s Supper would be inappropriate—where there is no one present authorized to administer the Sacrament, when persons of different denominations are present who do not feel free to take Holy Communion together, when there is a desire for a service more informal and spontaneous than the communion ritual, or at a full meal or some other setting to which it would be difficult to adapt the Lord’s Supper.

The Love Feast is most naturally held around a table or with persons seated in a circle; but it is possible to hold it with persons seated in rows. A church sanctuary, fellowship hall, or home is an appropriate location.

One of the advantages of the Love Feast is that any Christian may conduct it. Congregational participation and leadership are usually extensive and important, especially involving children.

Testimonies and praise are the focal point in most Love Feasts. Testimonies may include personal witness to God’s grace or accounts of what God has been doing in the lives of others. Praise may take the forms of hymns, songs, choruses, or spoken exclamations and may vary from the relative formality of an opening and closing hymn to spontaneous calling out of requests and singing as the Spirit moves. Sometimes the leader guides those present alternating spontaneous singing and sharing in free and familiar conversation for as long as the Spirit moves. Wesley counseled that all the above be done decently and in order.

Prayer is vital to a Love Feast. A fixed form of prayer may be used, especially something like the Lord’s Prayer or Be Present at Our Table, Lord, that is familiar to the people. Spontaneous prayer requests and prayers may come from the people.

Scripture is also important. There may be scripture readings, or persons may quote Scripture spontaneously as the Spirit moves. There may be a sermon, an exhortation, or an address, but it should be informal and consist of the leader’s adding personal witness to what spontaneously comes from the congregations.

Most Love Feasts include the sharing of food. It is customary not to use communion bread, wine, or grape juice because to do so might confuse the Love Feast with the Lord’s Supper. The bread may be a loaf of ordinary bread, crackers, rolls, or a sweet bread baked especially for this service. . . . The beverage has usually been water, but other beverages such as lemonade, tea, or coffee have been used. Early Methodists commonly passed a loving cup with two handles form persons to person, but later the water was served in individual glasses. The food is served quietly without interrupting the service.

Have a wonderful beginning to your week. I will see you in chapel.

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