Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I have attended Love Feast at several congregations and although you might think ‘it’ can only be done one way, there are several aspects to a Love Feast that make it unique to a congregation.
Love Feast begins with a time of reflection. This time evolved from the days of the “Annual Visit” when a small group of deacons would visit every family in the congregation and ask three questions: “Are you still in the faith of the gospel, as you declared in your baptism?” “Are you, as far as you know, in peace and union with the church?” and, “Will you still labor with the brethren for an increase of holiness, both in yourself and others?" (Carl Bowman, Brethren Society) If the response was negative, or there were complaints or discord, the concern or dispute had to be settled before the ‘body’ could commune together so Love Feast might be postponed. In later years this practice was discontinued as the Church of the Brethren became less sectarian. I once asked a member if they remembered when the last Deacon Visit had occurred in that congregation. The less that cordial response I received informed me that there were unpleasant memories associated with the old practice. Today, the time of reflection is more personal and contains a form of confession and absolution that fit the broader Christian Church. It is still a valuable time for us to restore our relationship to God and to each other by first reflecting on our “faith, peace, and union.”
Reflection time is followed by “feet-washing” where separate circles of men and women wash each other’s feet. Hand washing is available for those who find kneeling difficult or who prefer to wash hands. A few favorite choruses make this time a renewal of relationship and a reminder of the faith we practice. The Fellowship Meal is shared with conversation and the feeling of community gathered around the table in similar fashion to the last supper. As Jesus did, we then take the bread and cup and share in the ritual he instituted the night prior to his arrest.
The final aspect of Love Feast is clean-up. Yes, it is part of Love Feast for the community, having been restored and renewed, joins together in a simple task of putting away the food, washing plates, and returning chairs and tables to their places.
Just typing these words gives me a sense of joy that comes with this beloved ritual. When we leave our challenge is to enact Jesus' way in all aspects of our lives.