The Christian Meal
Meals are a prominent part of the Christian story:
- Greco-Roman culture promoted small gatherings for ritual meals in guilds, philosophical groups, and mystery religions.
- Judaism celebrated meals with religious significance with prayers and ritual, such as the Passover.
- Pharisees celebrated their purity with meals in brotherhood gatherings.
- Jesus is depicted at meals with followers and the curious, such as the Pharisees.
- Jesus feeds the multitudes, recorded in all four gospels. He shares the Last Supper with his disciples, recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and interpreted by Jesus.
- Jesus joins the disciples for meals after his death in his resurrected form.
They represent the sentiment of the members and evangelists/writers which use it to interpret and remember their experience with the Risen Christ.
Paul addresses the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians:
- He recommends sharing meals with fellow members
- He wants members to avoid meat from pagan shrines and pagan worship
- He admonishes the Corinthian church for not fully sharing the Last Supper and recites the form of the gospel description as a reminder and instruction to reinforce his sentiment to remain inclusive and facilitate the poor.
Scholarly approaches depart from the conventional considerations of the Lord’s Supper as sacrament.
Research by Leitzman facilitates an historical explanation of the early church activities:
- There was a fellowship meal, shared by the believers,like the philosopher’s symposium, a time of sharing and eating
- The Last Supper is a separate ritual meal, of worship, and possibly a creation of the apostle Paul
In a revisionist perspective, scholars reagard the superficial presentation and try to sweep to a core meaning.
- Historically, the mystery meals might be the origin of the common meals, promoted by Jonathan Smith, but it eliminates the significance of the Christian ritual
- Multiple, rival versions of Christianity develop spontaneously and simultaneously in different sites: Jerusalem (James), Galilee (Peter), and Asia Minor (Paul)
- Archaeological evidence, such as carving on burial containers, or sarcophagi, frequently have drawings. Some show a commemorative meal for the dead, like a wake, without connection to the historical Jesus or the Risen Lord
Johnson favors a more holistic approach:
- There was diversity, but there is communication and cooperation in the development of the ritual
- Paul’s own writings confirm that there was communication with the Jerusalem church: Like checking in with the home office, and Paul attests that he is complying with the apostles in Jerusalem
- He cites non-canonical works to confirm the ritual aspects of the meal and its sharing among early Christians.
Johnson holds that the meals celebrate the powerful Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper is common to the vast majority of Christian denominations.
Here are a few thoughts for the coming week.
- What can we find that unites us as Christians in the practice?
- Does the Eucharist have the same meaning and role in worship in all denominations? What is the significance of ecumenical events, such as World Communion Sunday?
Princeton Theological Seminary