Maundy Thursday Outdoor Agape Meal

Thanks to Carmen Retzlaff, pastor at New Life Church, Dripping Springs, Texas for this story.

Luke 24:35: “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

As we move into the Easter season, we encounter the stories of the followers of Jesus encountering him in various ways and places, in that strange and liminal time after he died.

And in reading the story of the road to Emmaus, I think back on our annual Agape Meal at New Life Lutheran in Dripping Springs, Texas. On the road to Emmaus, two disciples we don’t know meet a stranger, and talk with him on the way, and only at supper do they see who he is—in the breaking of the bread.

Every year on Maundy Thursday, we worship in a special way at New Life. We already worship in a unique way as an outdoor church – just being outdoors. We have no building on our 12-acre property in the Texas Hill Country.

When it is cold or rainy, we worship in a tent. Otherwise, we are under great live oaks and God’s big blue sky. During Lent we are usually in a transitional time, moving back to our hilltop after a few months in the tent.

When it is cold or rainy, we worship in a tent. Otherwise, we are under great live oaks and God’s big blue sky.

Outdoor Agape New Life Church CreationOn Thursday of Holy Week we usually open the tent; take off the sides, or most of them, and set up tables for everyone. People bring a simple vegetarian soup, and wine and various juices and sodas, and bread.

Each table is set with wine glasses and a plate for a loaf of bread at the center. Each place has a placemat with the order of worship.

As people arrive they put their wine and bread on our simple round wooden table altar. We pray and bless the bounty, sing, and distribute the bread and wine to tables.

As the words of the story of Jesus’ last meal with his friends are read, people at each table hold up the bread. It is broken, and passed around, from person to person, each saying, “The body of Christ, for you.” We eat and enjoy each other’s company.

Outdoor Agape Peacemeal CreationThen, as more of the story is read, and Jesus does the same, some one holds up the central glass of wine. It too is passed around (with other festive juices and non-alcoholic drink options), with the words, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

As the evening turns quieter, more of the story is read, the foot washing from the Gospel of John. And quietly we wash each other’s feet. And then finally the altar is stripped, and we leave in silence.

At New Life, this meal is distinctively and intentionally an Agape meal; a remembrance of early Christian tradition of table fellowship, modelled on the last supper.

This meal…is a remembrance of early Christian tradition of table fellowship, modelled on the Last Supper.

It is not a Seder meal. Though Jesus and his friends may have gathered that night as part of their Passover celebration, that tradition is not part of our Christian worship history, and we do not appropriate them.

Passover traditions are so rich in Jewish communities around the world, and have evolved over the centuries as all traditions do, incorporating rituals and components not present in the meal Jesus shared thousands of years ago in Jerusalem. That rich tradition took its own path.

Seeing the Seder meals of our Jewish friends and neighbors, it is easy to want that type of meal – intentionally intergenerational, interactive, in turns celebratory and serious. A meal that is meant to tell a story, and a meal that takes its time.

Outdoor-Agape-New-Life-Church-CreationI believe we can have such meaningful and inclusive rituals in our own tradition. The Agape meal is one of those moments, set in the larger series of interactive worship experiences of Holy Week.

If we embody the story of that week – tasting a meal, feeling water on our feet, walking through stations of the cross – we experience it in a different and deeper way.

If we embody the story of Holy Week – tasting a meal, feeling water on our feet, walking through stations of the cross – we experience it in a deeper way.

For children, in particular, this opens up ways of hearing and incorporating this story.

At New Life, children participate in all aspects of worship every week, but especially during Holy Week. On Thursday, they enjoy worship around a table, and hear the story of that famous meal.

When the grand procession had turned quickly to a dark darting, though quiet streets, to a secret room. Where Jesus interrupted the meal strangely with talk of his body and blood in the bread and wine; and where he turned the whole evening awkward by insisting on bathing their feet.

As the disciples scattered into the night, full of questions, so do we.

Outdoor Agape New Life Creation PeacemealThe next day the children will return to walk trails and hear of the day’s long journey through the city to the place outside the city walls where Jesus would die.

On Sunday they will return to dig up the buried Alleluia banner, and sing that joyous word again in joyful songs, knowing that the dark parts of the story had to be walked through, but did not win.

The meal is an important punctation point in that week and that story. A moment of respite and peace for Jesus and his friends, and for us as we contemplate the powerful story of Lent and Easter.

And then, after the Resurrection, Jesus finds them walking again, on another confusing journey, and joins them for supper. He reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. Again.

To hold up the bread, to break it, to give it to others at the table, while enjoying a meal in community. This, I believe, they will remember. This, I believe, will help them know deeply that this story is their story.


Read more from New Life Church in the Communion in Nature with Children story.

Photo credit: Jim Woodard

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