Grace and peace to you. You remain at the center of my prayers as you faithfully and creatively serve God's people in these extraordinary times. Our testimonies will be rich as we bear witness to the collaboration, teamwork, and innovation that this pandemic has fostered. We know our God did not cause it, but through God's amazing grace we are demonstrating the power of the beloved community.
I am immensely proud of the ways you are stretching yourselves to learn new means of creating worship experiences and Bible studies. And, as always, this kind of unchartered territory causes us to test the limits of our practices. While I want us to be as creative as possible, I do believe there are still some limits to what is appropriate.
While we are scattered, one from another, and unable to meet as the gathered church, the value and importance of ritual becomes all the more important to many people. We can still participate in the rituals of shared prayer, listening to good preaching, learning and growing together, Bible reading, and more. But it may be time to resurrect a Methodist ritual that is not as common: the Love Feast.
A Love Feast, created and encouraged in a time in our history when circuit-riding preachers could not always be present to consecrate the bread and wine, draws people together around a simple, shared and holy meal. Today, people might come to a common virtual table online or by phone, pray together, offer blessings, and eat crackers or fruit or bread and drink juice or water. It is the gathering, and the intentional bonding in community -- the love, rather than the feast -- that brings meaning.
Love Feasts are not intended to replace Communion, one of the sacraments of the church. But they do invoke God's presence in our midst, reinforced by the sharing of food and drink, prayer, Bible readings, and caring for one another in agape love. In times when clergy cannot always be present to bless the elements, a Love Feast is a ritual that evokes many of the same spiritual blessings.
There are many good resources online to learn about how to celebrate a Love Feast. One of these, produced by Discipleship Ministries, is available at www.discipleship.org/resources/the-love-feast.
This article walks you through the history of the Love Feast, which was started by the Moravians in the early 1700s. It offers suggestions for prayer, food, and drink that might be shared, ideas for Scripture readings, and more.
This Holy Mystery, a statement of United Methodist understanding of Holy Communion, reminds us of the significance of breaking bread together with Christ along the road of life.
"As early as the Emmaus experience on the day of Resurrection, recorded in Luke 24:13-35, Christians recognized the presence of Jesus Christ in the breaking of bread. When followers of Christ gathered in Jesus' name, the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup was a means of remembering his life, death, and resurrection and of encountering the living Christ. They experienced afresh the presence of their risen Lord and received sustenance for their lives as disciples. As the church organized itself, this custom of Eucharist became the characteristic ritual of the community and the central act of its worship."
While sacred and rich in mystery, Communion is not the only way we as United Methodist can evoke the life-giving presence of Christ.
In our current age, as the coronavirus pandemic forces us to do church differently, people are debating their theological understandings of the celebration of Holy Communion. Rather than engaging in this debate, however, let us both celebrate our fellowship in the body through participation in our historic tradition of the Love Feast while we are temporarily apart, and also maintain the mystery and sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Communion while we wait to celebrate the sacrament when we are once again together to feast at the heavenly table.
As this is being written, we are deep into the Lenten season, and it is possible that many of us are experiencing a real sense of suffering in being physically apart from the Body. We may be sharing, in a more vital way, the suffering of Christ and his journey to the Cross. May our waiting now for Holy Communion be counted as a sacrifice with sacred dimensions, made to the glory of God, as soon we will celebrate Christ's victory over death and sin, and soon and very soon, we will be together again around Christ's table.
May the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Blessings and Peace,
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling