One of the hallmarks of early Christian communities was the love feast. This was a big potluck dinner where Christians would come together and enjoy fellowship with one another, each bringing whatever he or she could contribute to the meal. Often it was connected to the observance of the Eucharist in which the disciples would remember the Lord together in the breaking of bread.
So the rich and poor would come together. There would be employers and slaves, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, all together around the same table. But in their fellowship, all the worldly distinctions which held sway “out there” would be superseded by their unity in Christ, a fact that became apparent as the night wore on and their spirits swelled in fellowship with one another, Eventually someone would bring out the bread and wine as if to say, “Now, brothers and sisters, let us stop and remember who made this possible, and how he did it.”
Tertullian wrote about the love feast in the late second century. Apparently, the Christians he ran with were accused of being too “extravagant” in their meal. But the extravagance was the point, he said. Unlike the secret societies who engaged in late-night romps of licentiousness, the Christians would eat and drink their fill in worship to God and then use the leftovers to feed the poor.
In other words, the love feast was more than a meal; it was a unique and vibrant expression of the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ, through the offering of himself, had brought an abundance of life and blessing into the world which was more than enough to meet the needs of all humanity. That is what the love feast showed.
The love feast fell out of practice after the first few centuries of the Faith, but I for one think it needs to be resurrected. More than that, the radical extravagance of the Kingdom of God needs to be restored in our midst. The love feast went away because our expectation of the Kingdom went away, plain and simple. When the superabundance of life that Jesus promised to those who follow him is active in our midst, then our practices will betray a living faith once more.
Until then, someone pass the cracker and grape juice.