The Jews of that time practised various religious meals either in the family or among friends. There were the purification meals for the membership of different organization. There were meals which marked the daily and weekly rhythms of the people, (family meal each day; at Sabbath community came together). In such a context, the first of Jesus’ disciples, who were simply one more religious association among the Jews similar to many others, with exception that they believed in the resurrection of Jesus, gathered together among themselves and even lived and thus ate together “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers ” (Acts 2:42; Cf. also Acts 20:7; 6:1). These texts are sufficient to show that the first Christian communities came together in the same way as the neighbouring Jewish communities and that during these meetings where a meal was shared; a “Memorial of the Lord” was conducted in accordance with Jesus’ command. In such a meal the principal actions of Jesus at the Last Supper were faithfully carried our namely taking; blessing; breaking and sharing of the bread and the cup.
We must try to understand how the early Christian community was built up around Jesus who was no longer there physically, but whom each of the participants nevertheless held firmly in faith to be alive: he is absent, and yet, there is no doubt about that he is present. This is a very important point to be considered as for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by these communities rapidly became the origin and source of growth for faith in Jesus resurrected. As a consequence, it is the site of the production of the Gospel texts (cf. Act 10:39-41). During these meetings, in the course of a religious meal, the amazing words and deeds of Jesus were brought forth; his crowning deed was enacted “in his memory”. In such a way there would have developed the awareness that he was manifesting himself. In this way the believing community edified itself by speaking, doing, and sharing around this Bread of the Word and of the “Memorial”.
Physically Jesus is absent. Who will take, bless, break, and give in the place of Jesus? In the Jewish meal it was the “Father” or the master of the house who did it…also there were servants who helped the master…. There were servants of the Word who commented upon the Word of God. In a Christian Meal (distinguish from Jewish meal, does not refer to a simple agape, but to the meal of Christ’s resurrection) there is someone who presides: to take, bless, break and give. There are also table servants as well to help the elders (Cf. Acts 6:2-5).
Further, the service of the Word will itself soon be divided among the members (cf. I Cor 14:26-27); the proclamation of the Word of God thus divided will be controlled by those who have proper authority (by those who have heard it and lived from it) cf. I The 5:21ff. The unique difference could be seen from the Jewish meal; the presider of the Lord’s Supper takes the place of Jesus Christ and speaks and acts “in his memory“, “in his name”. At this point it is no longer a matter of a word about Jesus or of a giving on his behalf; rather it is the Word of Jesus, and it is He who speaks, it is Jesus’ Gift, and it is He who serves. It was thus considered to be like the meal of those who were walking to Emmaus (He himself spoke; he himself distributed cf. Lk 24: 13-35). Thus the real presider who speaks, blesses, breaks the bread, and gives is Jesus himself. Indeed, “in the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, High Priest of the redemptive sacrifice” (CCC 1548).
What about the Lord’s Supper celebrated by his disciples after the resurrection of Jesus? Is it only a recalling of that meal or supper? We must take into account the fact of Resurrection – the risen Lord is present everywhere in the World (Mt.28:20). More so the community that gather in his name for this meal believes in the actual presence of the Risen Lord (cf. EE 14). With their eyes of faith they are able to recognize him again. Christian meal is a reunion of a brotherly community. This group meal is at the same time an occasion for mutual service, where the presence and action of Jesus who offers himself and allows him to be recognized, unites those present as strongly with one another as with himself (cf. I Cor 10:17).
Recommended Books and Articles
- From Jewish Meal to Christian Meal
- The First Mention of the Eucharist: Outside New Testament
- Eucharist and Didache
- Eucharist and Justin the Martyr
- Eucharist and The Apostolic Tradition