They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
This verse is often used as an example for the church. It shows what the community of faith looked like in the early stage, when the Lord was adding to their number daily. The previous verse says that about 3000 converts responded to Peter’s sermon, and joined what became the church. So we look at these verses and wonder, “Maybe if we did what they did, we’d have that same kind of response.”
So we talk about being devoted to the apostle’s teaching. We talk about prayer. The following verses in this chapter talk about sharing our resources and caring for the needy. All have been discussed as ways to be faithful as the church. But there’s one that has, at least from what I’ve seen, been a little overlooked. Verse 46 says: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” Often, when we see the phrase “breaking bread” (which we do both in verse 42 and in verse 46), we think in Eucharistic terms, the breaking of the communion bread. While that may have been part of what was going on here, it’s not really what Luke is referring to. What he’s talking about is simply eating together. It’s connected to the idea of fellowship, of spending time together.
So considering the fact that the early church had a handful of practices that seemed to contribute to their capacity to be the church—practices that shaped both their identity and their mission—and that the early church was such a vital manifestation of the community of faith—vibrant and thriving—then it’s not a bad idea to take a look at what these practices are and maybe apply them in our life together. We’ve got the “devotion to the apostle’s teaching” part down—we preach it frequently. We know the importance of prayer, it’s the lifeblood of the church. But do we do these things together? When we are together, are we really together, or are we just in the same place?
What we’re talking about is table fellowship—the sharing around a meal. Eating together can be an superficial stuffing of our stomachs, but it also has a much deeper potential. Sharing a meal is a way to share our lives, a way to show our love, a way to serve and be served. It can have deep spiritual meaning, if we are open to it. I suspect there was a reason that Jesus performed so many miracles that had to do with eating and taught so often around the dining table.
I think we recognize the need for all these practices, but I also wonder how effective any of them are in isolation. Perhaps we need to see these practices of the early church in a holistic light—that they are better together than apart. And perhaps we should begin by gathering around the table.
See you Sunday, John!