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Love Feast: a Place to Remove Shoes and Meet Jesus

Jan 7, 2005

The current issue of Christian History and Biography features an article by Frank Ramirez, a Church of the Brethren pastor from Everett, PA, in which he give some historical background and details step-by-step the procedure and meaning of the threefold communion service, which is also observed by Grace Brethren churches. Several paragraphs are excerpted here…to read the entire article click here.

But after nearly 300 years, the love feast, based on John 13, remains an essential Brethren practice. Though it is a movable feast, it is also Holy Ground—a place where all people can come together, remove their shoes, and meet Jesus.

The love feast was quite different from other religious practices of the day. It stemmed from the peculiar theological synthesis of the Brethren—part Anabaptist, part Pietist, and fully determined to implement those ordinances that they found in Scripture as the result of joint Bible study.

Their reading of John’s version of the Last Supper mandated both a full meal and a feetwashing service. John 13:14-15 indicated to the Brethren that Jesus had commanded they wash each other’s feet. Moreover, the meal, therefore, did not precede or follow worship. It was worship, and was as essential to Communion as breaking the bread and drinking the cup. . . .

. . . If you arrive at the love feast (usually held twice a year, often on Maundy Thursday and the first Sunday of October, to many known as World Communion Sunday), you will be welcomed at most congregations as a full participant. The evening will begin with a short service of examination, prayer, and meditation. Generally the congregation then moves to the room or rooms where the feetwashing takes place, men with men, women with women, and children with whomever they choose to sit. . .

. . . The service engages all five senses—the sights of the tables, the smell of the meat, the taste of the meal, the sound of singing and praying aloud, the touch of water and feet as well as the feel of venerable old eating utensils still in use after decades or even a century of service.

Jesus turned the world upside down when he took on the role of a slave and washed the disciples’ feet. The common meal of the early Christian church was just as revolutionary. The Roman Empire was every bit as our age: rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile, Roman and Celt. Yet the meal named Love crossed cultural, economic, ethnic, and gender lines. So it is today.