Eating and Evangelism in the very early Church by Alan Garrow

On Saturday 24th September the new vicar of St Peter’s Church Rev Alan Garrow gave the theology lecture; ‘Eating and Evangelism in the very early Church.’  Before the lecture we sang, ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’ and a passage from Isaiah 25 was read.

Alan explained that he had been working on the topic of eating and evangelism for 15 years and welcomed any questions.  He asked us why we had decided to follow Jesus.  Maybe it was our education and upbringing or maybe we heard a great preacher?  Maybe we had a light bulb moment when the Spirit hit us and we responded?

Why did people in the earliest days of the church decide to follow Jesus?  It was in the early church a dangerous life decision to follow Jesus; they could be ostracised, sidelined or even killed.  They could have been influenced by hearing Peter and Paul, but there were not many preachers. Paul had the ‘light bulb moment’ on the road to Damascus and his life was transformed.

Alan argued that the way Christians ate drew people to them.  How did they eat?  Paul tried to address some problems in 1Corinthians 11 about the chaotic way the Christians ate; the rich people had load of food, whereas the poor did not have enough food.  Jewish people would have a drink first, the cup first then the bread; that was the normal meal order and it was important to give thanks for the food, but we don’t know if the thanksgiving prayer was used.  In the gospels very little is said about how they ate.  There was no liturgy in the first century.

Alan told us of a pre New Testament clue about meals when there was an exciting find in Istanbul.  Arch Bishop Philotheos Bryennios discovered the sole surviving manuscript of the Didache in the library in 1873.  He was a theologian and he recognised it as an archival codex, which had been copied in 1056 by Leon, who had described himself as a scribe and sinner; it contained Barnabas’ teaching or Didache of the Lord by the 12 apostles to the Gentiles.  It included prayer and fasting, the Eucharistic prayers, warning prayers and Baptism.  5000 copies were sold in a day.  The teaching told us things we did not know about like the Eucharistic prayers.  Was it perhaps a forgery? Who wrote it, when was it written and why was it written towards the end of the first century.  The Arch Bishop made two discoveries of those practical texts; the first text gave instructions on Baptism, the Eucharist, Warning texts on the end times, and about the apostles.  The second text added a second Eucharist and the apostles and prophets, so that was combined with the original text.  Could these texts be the missing epistle of John, John 4; maybe they were revised instructions?  The Eucharistic prayers were prayers said at meals of the early Christians.

20% of Luke’s gospel has something to do with eating; it was an important way of spreading the gospel.  Jesus would eat with his disciples daily; the fragment was very unusual, as they broke bread together and shared the cup of wine and gave thanks after having eaten their meal.  In the Didache there were 10 Jewish graces for saying after a meal.  They thanked for the ordinary meal they had shared and gave thanks in anticipation of participating in a future hope.  Isaiah 25.6-8 looked forward to a banquet of rich foods and a lot of good wine; Jesus’ parable in Luke 14.15-17 described a banquet; Jesus was conscious of a future hope as well as the present experience of a banquet.   It was a big visual aid of what they longed for and hoped for.  It was saying that this is the way we are headed; if you want to end up there too, then come and join us by being baptised and following Jesus.  This meal is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

There is a mystery word which is not translated in the Lord’s Prayer; ‘epiousa’ means more than daily bread; it means the bread is necessary for existence; Matthew 6.11 and Luke 11.2.4.  It was a thank you for the meal they had just enjoyed but also a longing for the future kingdom; give us bread for tomorrow, the future Kingdom.

The Lord’s Prayer was a prayer at meal times, designed to used after meals to pray for God’s Kingdom to come; a longing for food of the kingdom.  Alan said that it would be great if everyone was longing like us for God’s kingdom to come.  If people could see what we hope for and want to see God’s kingdom to come in this world as we do.  Give us today the bread of the future Kingdom.

Why did people think it was a good idea to follow Jesus?  Now we know about the importance of sharing food, it is easier for us to understand what they believed and how they communicated that belief to others.  The way we eat becomes critical about understanding what we hope for; what is ordinary can become special, when we finish the meal by saying the Lord’s Prayer with the implication of longing for the Kingdom to come.

The Lord’s Prayer was a prayer at meal times, designed to used after meals to pray for God’s Kingdom to come; a longing for food of the kingdom.  Alan said that it would be great if everyone was longing like us for God’s kingdom to come.  If people could see what we hope for and want to see God’s kingdom to come in this world as we do.  Give us today the bread of the future Kingdom.  Why did people think it was a good idea to follow Jesus?  Now we know about the importance of sharing food, it is easier for us to understand what they believed and how they communicated that belief to others.  The way we eat becomes critical about understanding what we hope for; what is ordinary can become special, when we finish the meal by saying the Lord’s Prayer longing for the Kingdom to come.  We do say grace before meals but it has made me think about giving thanks after a meal as well.

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