The word “agape” is the Greek word used in the New Testament for the highest and broadest kind of self-giving Love, the kind of Love that is our source, our true life in this life, and our eternal reality. We have no word capable of describing the God who is Love in any language. Still, agape seems to come the closest to approximating the infinite and overflowing fullness of Divine Love.
An Agape Meal, or “Love Feast” as it is also called, is an ancient tradition of table fellowship.
The practice of holy hospitality precedes the Church, returning to the hospitality Abraham showed to his three unknown visitors (Genesis 18). In the early Church, agape meals were a time of fellow-ship for “People of the Way,” as the earliest Christians were called. The Eucharist, our Christian sacramental celebration instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper, was often a part of these meals, BUT THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. Probably between the late 1st century and the mid-3rd century AD, the two feasts became separate. Its use has waxed and waned over the centuries. However, “Love Feasts” enjoyed a revival in the 18th century in the Methodist Church with the Wesley brothers, particularly in America, partly because of a lack of ordained ministers to celebrate Holy Communion in the New World.
Acknowledges our “koinonia,” which in Greek means community and sharing, such meals seek to strengthen communal bonds and foster a spirit of harmony, goodwill and congeniality. They usually include an opportunity to acknowledge our need for forgiveness, especially if some sort of reconciliation among community members is warranted. The meal is another way of living out Jesus’ ‘mandatum’ or commandment that we love one another with the same self-emptying love, mercy, and forgiveness with which he has loved and still loves us.
The book of Occasional Services of The Episcopal Church was approved at the 2018 General Convention. This one is entitled “Agape for Maundy Thursday.” Its tone is more solemn as befits the events of this, the last night of Jesus’ physical life on earth.