Traditional Moravian Love Feasts and Contemporary Agape Meals
When I was asked to write about the Moravian love feast for this issue, I thought about the role that feasts play in the life of the church; for many of us, communion is the first meal that springs to mind. I imagine being at the table with Jesus on the eve of the crucifixion and hearing Him say, “The next time we drink this (cup), I will be with you and we will drink it together with a new understanding in the kingdom realm of my Father.” (Matthew 26:29, The Passion Translation) “What are you talking about? When will that be?” they must have been thinking. At this moment, communion seems like a distant memory for many as church services have been suspended in most communities due to the current pandemic. When will we come together again? What will happen in the meantime?
As communion celebrates the relationship between Christ and the church, the traditional Moravian love feast celebrates the relationship within the faith community, connecting us to see Christ in each other. The first Moravian love feast was held in Germany in 1727, following the renewal of the Moravian church and styled after the common meal taken within the early church (described in Acts 2:46). Held at various times throughout the year, most often within the church family itself, at Christmas the local community is often invited to participate. Wake Forest and Winston-Salem are two examples of places that do this.
The feast is only one part of a larger service, sometimes with a special theme, incorporating song and scripture. Held in the sanctuary, servers pass baskets of sweet buns along the pews. Mugs of coffee or tea (made with a larger ratio of sweetened milk to caffeine) are served from a tray and passed down from hand to hand. The servers are called dieners, meaning server or servant in German. After everyone has been served, the congregation prays the traditional Moravian blessing, and congregants visit as they dine in their pews. At the end of the meal, the mugs are passed back down to the aisle, where a server collects them. An offering may be taken for those in need and the service ends with a benediction.
Other denominations have adapted the Moravian feast tradition, most notably, the Methodists. I first experienced the tradition as an “agape meal” in my Baptist faith community, a simple dinner of soup and bread held each fall a few weeks before Thanksgiving. The meal is served in the fellowship hall at long tables so that people can dine family style. At the end, there is an opportunity to publicly share, expressing thanks and love for one another. Some churches offer regular agape meals for the needy citizens of their own cities.
This serving and being served is a valuable lesson, especially given the current state of events in our world. Whether we find ourselves serving someone else or being served, may we give and receive with hearts of love. And when our church communities finally come together again, whether we celebrate communion or an agape/love feast, I have no doubt it will be with new understanding and fresh appreciation for God, our families, our churches, our local communities, and the world at large.
Editors note: Please enjoy the following selections from Pam.