Meals for the Jews in the ancient world were more than an occasion for eating and drinking: they were a sacred time, a time for thanksgiving to God.
A Jewish meal began when the father or presiding member of community
On holy days, at the end of the meal:
Unlike the acetic John the Baptist, Jesus mingled with the people, eating and drinking and sharing meals with his disciples and others -- including the outcasts of society: sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes
2.2. Food Miracle Stories
There are six miracle stories in the gospels of Jesus providing food for crowds:
“the focal point . . . is not so much the miracle as the marvelous abundance that comes into play when Jesus offers his fellowship at table.”
2.3. The Last Supper
We have four accounts of the words of institution (listed here from the earliest to the latest):
…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Paul: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (NRSV)
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take, this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God”
Mark 14:22-25 (NRSV)
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Matt. 26:26-29 (NRSV)
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Luke 22:14-20 (NRSV)
The four accounts of the words of institution in Paul and the three synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) suggest the writers had access to two traditions:
188.8.131.52. The Words Over the Bread
In the words over the bread:
184.108.40.206. The Words Over the Wine
In the words over the wine:
One tradition of the words of institution has Jesus commanding his disciples to repeat his Eucharist in remembrance of him. The other tradition has Jesus speaking of the future Eschatological banquet he will someday share with them:
John's gospel is believed by scholars to be the last gospel written, perhaps some 10-20 years after the gospels Matthew and Luke.
John does not describe the Last Supper. However, after the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6:1-15), John’s gospel does contain a long passage that might be described as “eucharistic theology”
“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
- John 6:48-58 (NRSV)
Eucharist from from the Greek word eucharista meaning thanksgiving
“virtually from the beginning of the church, the eucharist was part of its life” (Macquarrie)
In the early days of the Church, the Eucharist appears to have been called the “breaking of the bread.” At first, wine was used only on festival days, as most people were too poor to afford it
3.2. The Eucharist and the Community Meal
Originally the Eucharist was part of a community meal, typically in the evening. As in Jewish meals of the time, and as in Jesus' Last Supper:
The breaking of the bread was soon moved to the end of the community meal with the blessing over the wine, so that the community could better appreciate the parallels between the two parts of the Eucharist by having them side by side.
There were problems with the combination of the Eucharist with the Community meal:
“when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. . . When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”
- 1 Cor. 11:17, 20-22 (NRSV)
The custom at meals was to eat in groups, one group to a table, each with a common dish and a common cup. The size of a “table group” limited by need for each diner to be within an arm’s length to the common dish and cup.
One can speculate that the problems described by Paul in Corinthians may have arisen because the table groups would tend to sort themselves out by social status or common interests. The well-off may have eaten at home (the community food not sufficiently to their taste) and instead they may have spent the meal drinking (too much) wine rather than eating
Teaching, and instruction apparently took place during these community meals:
On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn.
- Act 20:7-8 NRSV
The Eucharist soon became separated from community meal. At the beginning of the second century, the Roman Governor Pliny the Younger, in a letter to Emperor Trajan (111-113 AD) described Christians as gathering before dawn for worship, then meeting later in the day for an ordinary meal
The separation of the Eucharist from the community meal had many important consequences:
3.3. The Structure of the Early Liturgy
3.3.1. Account of Justin Martyr
Writing about 150 AD, Justin Martyr, in his First Apology gives us a picture of the structure of the early Christian Eucharistic liturgy:
3.3.2. Account of Hippolytus
Hippolytus, writing in his book, Apostolic Traditions, 225 AD records an early Eucharistic Prayer that contains many of the Christian beliefs later formalized in the creeds:
Bishop: The Lord be with you.
All: And with your spirit
Bishop: Up with your hearts
All: We have [them] with the Lord
Bishop: Let us give thanks to the Lord
All: It is fitting and right
Bishop: We render thanks to you, O God, through your beloved child Jesus Christ, whom in the last times you sent to us as a savior and redeemer and angel of your will; who is your inseparable Word, through whom you made all things; and in whom you were well pleased; whom you sent from heaven into a virgin’s womb; and who, being conceived in the womb, was made flesh and was manifested as your Son, being born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin; who, fulfilling your will and gaining for you a holy people, stretched out his hands when he should suffer; that he might release from suffering those who have believed in you; who, when he was betrayed to voluntary suffering that he might destroy death, and break the bonds of the devil, and tread down hell, and shine upon the righteous, and fix a term, and manifest the resurrection, took bread and gave thanks to you, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body, which shall be broken for you;” who also [took] the cup, saying, “This is my blood, which is shed for you; when you do this, you make my remembrance.” Remembering therefore his death and resurrection, we offer to you the bread and the cup, giving you thanks because you have held us worthy to stand before you and minister to you. And we ask that you would send your Holy Spirit upon the offering of your holy church; that, gathering her into one, you would grant to all who receive the holy things [to receive] for the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the strengthening of faith in truth; that we may praise and glorify you through your child Jesus Christ; through whom be glory and honor to you, to the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit, in your holy Church, both now and to the ages of ages.
One aspect of a meal that the Eucharist continues to evoke is the bonding among those sharing a meal.
There are two facets to the "bonding" evoked for us by the Eucharist:
Both the horizontal bonding and the vertical bonding aspects of the Eucharistic meal are inseparable.
This create a challenge in creating liturgies and planning Church spaces. To emphasize the horizontal bonding the gathered community, one might conceive of the church as very domestic, inviting, informal space. But to emphasize the vertical bonding with God, one might conceive of great cathedral-like spaces that inspire awe, a sense of unworldly mystery and grandeur
The "vertical" bonding (the mutual indwelling of Christ and the faithful as a benefit of the Eucharistic meal), derives from the passage of Eucharistic theology in John’s gospel (John 6:48-58).
The sense of "vertical" bonding is also expressed in the "Prayer of Humble Access" of many editions of the Book of Common Prayer:
“Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood”
The information in these notes comes from the following references: