Maundy Thursday – A METHODIST LOVEFEAST
Thursday 9th April 2020
Because we are unable to share in Holy Communion, I invite you this evening to experience a Methodist Love Feast in your own homes.
The Love Feast, or Agape, is a Christian fellowship meal recalling the meals Jesus shared with disciples during his ministry. The service expresses the koinonia or sharing, belonging and fellowship enjoyed within the body of Christ.
The Love Feast, in common with other acts of worship includes prayer, praise, scripture, preaching and mutual fellowship and an offering, but in addition the Love Feast contains a time of Testimony and the sharing of the Love Feast cake and the Loving Cup.
Traditionally the Love Feast has a specially prepared cake and there are many recipes you could try. Alternatively, use whatever you have at home where you can eat something; suggestions could include crackers, teacakes, biscuits or bread and butter. You will also need what is known as the Loving Cup (usually a cup of tea or glass of water) and the suggestion is both are covered until they are required and are placed on a table in front of you.
‘All praise to our redeeming Lord’ (Singing the Faith 608. Hymns & Psalms 753))
Jesus of the Emmaus Road,
Come as we walk the lonely path,
and be our companion.
Come when life mystifies and perplexes.
Come into our disappointments and unease.
Come at table where we share bread and hope,
and coming, open our eyes to recognise you.
Usually during a Love Feast, people are invited to give a short testimony. Today, I invite you to consider where you have noticed God in your life recently. Spend some time on this, don’t rush past. You may remember a particular occasion where God was very real to you and this changed the direction in your life. You may remember something much more ordinary that has happened in the last few days, the kindness of a friend perhaps, or the birds singing outside.
Matthew 26: 20-29
One of the events during the Last Supper I had previously missed was how Jesus predicted the betrayal of one of his disciples but didn’t then restrict who could participate in this holy meal. I think it highly likely Jesus knew about Judas but continued to let him sit at the table and share in the food and wine. The brokenness of his body and the shedding of his blood was for the world, including Judas. I find that grace and forgiveness extraordinary; the love and sacrifice did not exclude Judas. We are prone to offering love and forgiveness only to those we think are deserving, and in some circumstances this can be extended to excluding people from participating in Holy Communion. If Jesus didn’t exclude Judas, if the response of Jesus is to be inclusive and say yes, shouldn’t our response be the same?
Richard Rohr believes that when Jesus spoke those familiar words, ‘This is my body,’ he was not just speaking about the bread in front of him, but that all of physical creation should be seen as being sprit-filled. When we look closely, we can notice God everywhere. One of my favourite films is Love Actually and the opening lines are:
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.
There is a difference between pantheism (the belief that everything is God) and panentheism (the belief that God is in all things) – I firmly stand in that second category of belief because I believe that God’s divinity is to be found through all of creation. It is a challenge to find the Christ in the face of everyone I meet – I certainly don’t always remember this and I confess I struggle to find Christ in some of our world leaders – but if I accept that Jesus came to save us all, to show us the face of God in us all, I have to accept the face of Christ in everyone I see.
I have a fairly low theology of Holy Communion and have some Quaker sympathies that every shared meal is potentially an act of communion. It is the sharing that is crucial for me, which is why for a long time I didn’t think it possible to celebrate communion alone. This is certainly the Methodist perspective. However, a few years ago I read Terry Waite’s autobiography of when he was held in captivity and spent many years in solitary confinement. One morning as his guard brought him some bread and water, he asked what day it was. Sunday, was the reply. And so, in his isolation, Terry recited the words of the eucharistic prayer as he turned his simple meal into an act of Holy Communion. But the reality is, although he was physically apart, he was worshipping in solidarity with Christians all over the world and wasn’t really alone.
Richard Rohr believes that when Jesus says, ‘This is my blood’, he is actually saying that ‘This is all of my blood’; all bloodshed, all suffering is his. All suffering is unjust and through his blood he stands alongside us, uniting those who suffer with him. The physicality of the act on communion is significant – Jesus didn’t tell us to think about it, to reflect on it, or to watch it done, but simply to eat it. And in suddenly the advice that you are what you eat takes on a whole new significance. When the bread is held aloft and the words ‘This is the Body of Christ’ are spoken to the Body of Christ, the Church, we are each experiencing God in each other.
As we near the end of Holy Week, I invite you to consider how united we are, how across the county, across the country, across the world, Christians are sitting in their homes to remember those events that led to the crucifixion. We are in solidarity with them. I invite you to consider how the body of Jesus means we can find God’s presence in every aspect of creation, and how the blood of Jesus means we can be in solidarity with those who suffer. In doing so, I believe we will find that love actually is all around.
Charles Wesley wrote only one specific hymn for the Love-feast, Come, and let us sweetly join, (Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1740). There were 22 eight-line verses in the original! Verses from this hymn appear in Singing the Faith 646 (Hymns & Psalms 756) and a shorter version is printed here.
1 Come, and let us sweetly join
Christ to praise in hymns divine;
Give we all with one accord
Glory to our common Lord,
2 Hands and hearts and voices raise,
Sing as in the ancient days,
Antedate the joys above,
Celebrate the feast of love.
3 Jesu, dear expected Guest,
Thou art bidden to the feast;
For thyself our hearts prepare,
Come, and rest, and banquet there.
4 Sanctify us, Lord, and bless,
Breathe thy Spirit, give thy peace;
Thou thyself within us move,
Make our feast a feast of love.
Eat and drink
Now as you consume the food and drink you have prepared, say the following prayer:
Be present at our table, Lord;
be here and everywhere adored;
thy creatures bless, and grant that we
may feast in paradise with thee.
Jesus arrested, judged, found guilty and condemned to die
is held captive overnight.
If I were arrested and held this night what would I be found guilty of?
That I made friends with people irrespective of their colour, creed or class….
That I shared my bread with the poor….
That my words… and actions… brought healing and forgiveness….
That I made justice and didn’t count the cost ….
That I sought the truth and then spoke of it….
That I recognised my neighbour and loved them as my very self…
That I met God along the way in the healing and forgiveness I received….
That I accepted hospitality at many different tables….
That I was changed by the lives of others….
…. and often repented my arrogance and foolishness
in encountering their wisdom …
That friends and strangers sometimes paid the price for me….
That I never sought out suffering…
….. but journeyed with it to the best of my ability…
That the love of those about me taught me to love myself before God…
You call us out of brokenness
to mend and remake your creation.
Grant us the courage to stay
with all those who are held captive this night.
In the name of Jesus who is good news, Amen.
Christ, from whom all blessings flow (Singing the Faith 676. Hymns and Psalms 764)
Now the blessing of God,
Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
Be with you and those you love
Tonight and every night.