St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church


St. Bart's Blog

Wouldn't Agape be a wonderful name for a Church?

Posted by The Rev. William Zettinger on

Every fall we gather as a community in small groups to share a meal, get to know one another and share what St. Bart's means to us. Be sure to participate in one of these Agape meals. RSVP today!

Wouldn’t Agape be a wonderful name for a church? In using it, we would be using a word which sums up what church should be about. Agape is the love God has for us and the love we should have for each other and for God and Jesus. In other words, it is all about our theme: ”All are welcome no exceptions.”

One of the important things that showed agape in the early church was the agape feast, and it’s this that I want to talk about this month. The Agape feast was a shared meal that the church celebrated when it came together to worship. The wonderful thing about our church is that, unlike many churches, we are already practicing the agape feast. I only want to fill in some of the background and its spiritual significance as we move into fall and begin to share our own Agape meals in our homes for our community and friends.

It’s weird to think that food and eating are spiritually important, but they are! Indeed, the agape feast is one of the things which shows the world that Jesus is our Lord and that we’re different from the world. The Agape feast is about both fellowship and mission. It remembers Jesus and brings us closer together – that is, fellowship. In the New Testament it was also a chance to include non-Christians in the kingdom – that is, mission.

The Example of Jesus
Jesus set the example for the agape feasts of the early church in two different ways.

Fellowship Around the Table
First of all, his example of ‘table fellowship’. When you get to eat with someone, you feel included and accepted by them. This is true today in our culture; it was even truer in the time of Jesus. Jesus set an example of including all the sinful, left-out people who were some of his first followers.

In his ministry, we read about him going from town to town and house to house, eating with people. He didn’t seem to cook very much but liked to eat!

He deliberately ate with people that other good Jews would not eat with. Who you ate with was really important to good Jews like the Pharisees and religious leaders in Judaism. It was a matter of being clean. They read their Bible very carefully and worked out that if they ate with sinful people, they would be unclean. They’d been concentrating on the details of the Bible so closely that they forgot the whole point of loving people. We should remember this when we read our Bibles today. Scripture is too important to take it literally.

Tax collectors were one group of people good Jews wouldn’t eat with. They were collecting money for the Romans, the occupying empire and they were often cheating people. They also worked on the Sabbath and had continual contact with Gentiles. So they were seen as traitors and cheats.

In Luke 6:29-32 we read:

“Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’

So Jesus eats in the homes of sinners and outcasts, showing his love and acceptance of these people. This was radically new!

Who we eat with shows something about us. Jesus realized it, and later on, the disciples realized it in the early church. It’s something we need to realize today. Later on, in Luke 14:13, Jesus gives instructions about who to eat with, saying, ‘But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.’

I think we can carry that over to what we do as a church, and say that we should be seeking out the left-out people and offering them a place at our table of fellowship. This is what I hope we do this fall. It also applies to what we do at home. We should look for chances to invite people to eat with us, and not just the people we feel comfortable eating with, but the people who are different from us, or left out. Perhaps they are poor, or perhaps they have a disability, or perhaps they are just for lonely. We should follow Jesus by looking for chances to invite these people to eat in our homes and in our church. So let's go do it!