The recent liturgical seasons of Easter and Pentecost have stirred my thoughts about the first century Church…. or actually, the first century gatherings of those who responded to the call to follow the Way of Jesus. I’ve spent some time examining imagery of various archaeological sites where remnants and relics of those early communities offer hints to the humble beginnings of the Christian faith.
From historical implications, these were table communities of men, women, and children who were seeking the sacred through the sharing of the stories of Jesus. These were people who came together to break bread and share a cup of wine to re-member Christ’s Way of Love and Compassion.
In the beginning, they gathered two by two on rocky hillsides, in small groups hidden away in secret rooms and in one another’s homes. Over time these ever-growing communities eventually began to build sizable structures for worship to house the increasing crowds of followers. The physical centerpiece to their shared experience was a table, the place where they broke bread and shared the cup of the New Covenant.
The table itself differed depending on where the people came together. It may in one instance have been a flax-cloth spread on a dirt floor, or a small low table made of cedar, or eventually a large flat stone set on stone pillars. Perhaps the women of those early communities took turns baking the bread and the men shared the weekly offering of a goatskin filled with wine, carefully poured into a common cup.
Undoubtedly, stories about Jesus were told, questions arising from the stories were discussed, and prayers for myriad needs were shared. Then the people gathered about their table, broke the bread and passed the cup as they remembered their Teacher, his parables, his miracles, and his Way. They were fed and nourished by the bread, the wine, and their common experience.
Our twenty-first century life is vastly different from the world of the first century followers of Christ. Many of us today are spiritually hungry and seeking sustenance beyond Sunday’s Church service. What are we truly seeking? What are we hungry for? What is the invitation within our longing? Is it possible we are being invited to look to our long ago brothers and sisters in Christ as our model for how to integrate the simplicity and passionate depth of table community into our lives?
What might it feel like to gather with family, friends, and even a welcomed stranger or two at the table? Envision the blessing of the gifts of food and Presence, the reading from Scripture, the offering of a song. The supper continues with prayers for the needs of those gathered and the needs of the world, the Peace is shared, and then the bread is passed one to another….. “Bread for the Journey.” Followed by the cup…. “The Cup of Blessing.”
Dinner comes afterwards with stories, laughter and celebration. The celebration of being alive and part of the human family as a table community. Consider how full all would feel after such a life-sustaining meal?
In this time of spiritual seeking and hunger, perhaps the Spirit is inviting us to look to the past to inform our present. Maybe you are feeling called that it’s time to gather round your table with family, guests, and the stranger in your midst to share bread for the journey and the blessing cup and feel the spirits of ancient brothers and sisters surrounding you and yours.
If you listen closely in such a moment, you just might hear their voices echo through the vastness of time, from that deep taproot of faith…. “This is the Way. Amen and Amen.”