October 22, 2017

Another Look: Worship as a Meal Gathering

 

imageThe following was part of a 2011 post, The Order of Christian Worship. It has been edited and updated.

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The liturgy, the historic worship order in the Western Church, makes sense to me as a pattern for meeting with God and focusing my attention on Christ and the Gospel.

It seems to me like what would happen if I were to receive an invitation to a banquet at a king’s palace. There would be a protocol, set up by the king’s staff, for guests to follow. We would enter the palace and show our respect and gratitude for being invited. We would be introduced to the king and he would address us as his citizens. We would sit down at the banquet table and he would lead us in partaking of the feast prepared for his honor and our blessing. We would be dismissed in peace to go and live as his loyal subjects.

If that sounds too formal and “high church” for you, then think of it like this. The same pattern would hold if my wife and I were invited to the home of dear friends. When we arrived, we would be greeted at the door and as we entered we would say, “Thanks for having us over; boy, that sure smells good; I love what you’ve done with your house” — we would offer words of thanks and praise. Before dinner was served, we might sit down in the living room or out on the deck together. We would catch up with one another through conversation. Then, summoned to the table, we would sit down as guests and enjoy the meal our friends had prepared and served us. Finally, after more conversation, we would bid them goodnight, saying, “We must do this more often. We’ll be in touch.” We would go home, hearts warmed after a time of renewing a special relationship and hoping to strengthen those bonds in the days to come.

We gather.

We share words.

We share a meal.

We depart, renewed.

And in case some of you are automatically thinking this is about being “high church” or participating in elaborate rituals or following suffocating formalities, forget it. It’s just a simple pattern that can be worked out with as much or as little fanfare as a congregation desires. It can contain any style of music, any number of creative elements, and it can fit any cultural setting.

It’s just the way we meet with God.

Comments

  1. Drena (@DrenaBlanc) says:

    That’s awesome, and now that I think about it, it’s so true. And hey, I like liturgy and the high church so no there was no fidgeting with me while reading.

  2. It’s analogy week at InternetMonk!

    So here is my thought. What if the best analogy for Worship wasn’t “Worship as a Meal Gathering”, but “Worship as a Party” where anything and everything might happen?

    Jesus it seemed to me was particularly fond of parties.

    A party may involve a meal, but once the alcohol gets flowing all kinds of interesting things happen.

    Paul of course warns us: “Do not be drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit…”

    I think that most churces of all stripes are guilty of excluding the moving of the Spirit from their gatherings.

    Acts 2: “2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting… 3. Then Peter stood up and said. ‘let us continue in the order of service by singing hymn number 176. Spirit of God descend upon my heart, paying special attention to verse 2.”

    • Ok, but my point is more than an analogy. The meal fellowship in the early church is source of the liturgy.

      • How so? I am asking the question out of partly out of ignorance of litugical development, but also out of an understaning (correct or not) that much of the liturgy in use today rose in the 5th Century, long after the church had dropped the fellowship meal.

        • In the original post, I quoted Justin Martyr (c. 150AD): “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.”

          This shows an early link with Luke’s emphasis on the first Christians meeting for meal fellowship throughout his Gospel and Acts, as in Acts 2:42-47. Early Christian worship seems to have grown out of the influence of the Last Supper and the post-resurrection meals Jesus shared with his disciples, combined with elements of Jewish temple worship, particularly with regard to the prayers and singing of hymns and psalms.

          It is true that various specific rubrics have been added throughout church history, but the essence (a gathered sacred meal) and basic pattern of worship (word and sacrament) have been there from the beginning.

        • that much of the liturgy in use today rose in the 5th Century

          Definitely incorrect. Much of the liturgy originated well after that, and much was in use long before. It was never foisted in mass upon the church as a new thing, but grew over time as an expression of her teaching and understanding of the sacraments, starting in the first century. Churches without liturgy are generally ones with a low view of the sacraments.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      For that matter, maybe the “best” analogy is a NASCAR race, or a Yo Yo Ma concert, or a Twihard sleepover.

    • While I am all for just worship services just prayer services services to sit and wait on God as I have seen and read many accounts of God revealing Himself in them and I suppose that could include dinners and the likes but in all reality when these things replace 1 cor 13 and 14 and the command in corinthians 14:37 well those presuming to teach and neglecting or replacing the Holy Spirits right to move and direct. well their will be a lot to answer for from many professing leaders I believe that where full of works and seen as mighty according to the worlds standard but the question is where was God in the mist of it and did He bear witness. You have a good point

    • Robert F says:

      “I think that most churches of all stripes are guilty of excluding the moving of the Spirit from their gatherings.”

      How, exactly, would one know this to be the case? What if the movement of the Spirit is in the communion elements, turning them into the Body and Blood? Why must the movement of the Spirit be any more dramatic than the drama of Eucharistic liturgy? Perhaps the “interesting” things that are supposed to happen are the ones that follow after we have received the benediction and been dismissed to go into the world in the power and peace of the crucified and risen Christ, “Thanks be to God.”

    • Imagine a world without hypotheticals.

    • churces of all stripes are guilty of excluding the moving of the Spirit

      I don’t honestly believe that is even possible!

    • Then Peter stood up and said. ‘let us continue in the order of service…

      Actually, what Peter did get around to saying, at the end of his monologue, was, “Repent, and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Just sayin’… 😀

    • Last point: The “movement of the Spirit” is not the same thing as doxological spontaneity. Good or bad, they are different things entirely.

  3. Faulty O-Ring says:

    And what does the host do to those who decline his invitation?

    Indian worship models the hospitality given to guests. One offers water for washing, water to drink, fruit, flowers (yeah, I know–I thought the guest brought those), incense, stuff like that. So this is what goes on the altar.

  4. During my days as a home-churcher, I discovered that there is definitely something to be said for gathering around a table and sharing meals as believers — and not just in the sense of taking the Lord’s Supper, though that can easily be incorporated. But just gathering and eating together — something Jesus and His disciplines seemed to do quite a bit — seems to carry more meaning (at least for me) than getting together formally and worshiping in rows all facing the front. Sitting around a table, you’re facing each other and talking directly to each other. You’re more likely to actually get to know each other through conversation, which helps strengthen those bonds of love that Paul talked about — rather than just loving each other in a vague, theological sense. And if such a gathering can keep the conversation and the general attitude God-centered (which I admitt can be difficult at times), then some amazing things can happen.
    Good food plus good fellowship plus a good Lord who is present when even two or three are gathered in His name — there’s nothing quite like it.
    In case you couldn’t tell, I really miss some aspects of my past experiences in home-based churches — though I freely admit that (like any other brand of church) the home-church model has it’s own set of issues and problems.